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The Kid with the Golden Arm
November 28, 2005
Jimmy Clausen, the third quarterbacking brother in his family, may be a once-in-a-generation talent as a passer. And he's only a junior in high school
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November 28, 2005

The Kid With The Golden Arm

Jimmy Clausen, the third quarterbacking brother in his family, may be a once-in-a-generation talent as a passer. And he's only a junior in high school

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Rick, a year behind Casey, wanted to be one, too. He served as Casey's backup at Alemany High in Mission Hills for three years before transferring to Taft High in Woodland Hills for his senior season. In high school both boys got coaching from Clarkson, a former San Jose State quarterback who runs Air 7 Football Academy in Pasadena and whose students include Matt Leinart and Ben Roethlisberger. One day when Clarkson was sitting with Jim in the stands at an Alemany game, he watched a towheaded preteen on the sideline heave a ball from one side of the field to the other. "Who the hell is that?" asked Clarkson.

"That's my other son," said Jim. "He wants to be a linebacker."

"He's a better quarterback than both your other boys right now," said Clarkson.

Jimmy started working with Clarkson in the seventh grade, developing his footwork and his understanding of defenses, among other things. He never started as a freshman at Oaks, but he made a clutch play in the CIF Southern Section championship game against Oak Park--a 36-yard pass on third-and-five from his own five--that helped the Lions secure their first title. "We needed a big play, and he got it done," recalls Duke Lemmens, a junior offensive lineman. "I think that's when everyone realized he was legit."

Clausen credits Clarkson with "making me the quarterback I am today," though he adds that he still learns a lot from Casey and Rick, who let him tag along for everything they did when he was little, from snowboarding down black diamond runs on Mammoth Mountain to attending quarterbacks meetings at Tennessee. "He was there for everything, including the recruiting visits," says Rick. "He has seen it all."

Few high schoolers have been more thoroughly exposed to the highs and lows of college football. Though Casey was 34--10 as a starter at Tennessee, fans there still criticized him, and no NFL team drafted him. After getting cut by the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent, he made a brief tour of NFL Europe and is now a graduate assistant at Mississippi State. "The thing I always tell Jimmy is never be satisfied, always keep working to get better," says Casey. "I don't want him to go through what I went through."

He probably wouldn't wish Rick's career, either, on his little brother. A 6'3", 210-pound lefty who has made up for a lack of size and arm strength with smarts and leadership, Rick threw for 3,361 yards and 38 TDs during his senior year at Taft, good enough to earn a scholarship to LSU. He redshirted his first year and had one disastrous start in his next, after which he was promptly buried on the depth chart. With more top-flight quarterback prospects about to flood the system, he transferred to Tennessee and sat out Casey's senior year. In 2004, as a junior, Rick got buried again, until the two freshmen in front of him got hurt. He won three of his four starts that season, including the 2005 Cotton Bowl, in which he was named the MVP.

Rick was consigned to backup again this fall until sophomore Erik Ainge was yanked with the Vols trailing 21--0 at LSU on Sept. 26. In storybook fashion Rick engineered a 30--27 overtime victory over his former team. Those heroics, however, have been largely forgotten as Tennessee struggles through a disappointing season and fans point fingers at an ineffective offense. Still, Jimmy admires what Rick has accomplished. "Growing up, he was always 'Casey's younger brother,' and everyone told him he couldn't do things," says Jimmy. "He said, 'O.K., just watch me.'"

No one has expressed such doubts about the youngest Clausen, but he still feels driven to succeed. "I want to prove to everyone that I am the best quarterback in the country," Jimmy says.

Just watch him.

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