Clausen recalls ’04 NFL draft

Published 3:37 am Friday, November 13, 2009

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jimmy Clausen thinks about the NFL draft when he needs motivation.

It’s not the draft this April the Notre Dame quarterback thinks about, though, or the 2011 draft following what would be his senior season. It’s the 2004 draft.

That’s when he sat with his oldest brother, Casey, in their Westlake Village, Calif., home and watched for hours as the names of 17 quarterbacks were called by NFL teams. Casey was never picked even though he ranks only behind Peyton Manning on Tennessee’s passing list. The family was numb afterward.

Email newsletter signup

“I looked at him and told him, ’Don’t let this happen to you,”’ Casey recalled.

It’s a moment Jimmy Clausen recalls often.

“That’s something I’ll never forget until the day I die. When I work out in the offseason, each and every day I think about that,” he said. “When we’re running gassers, and I’m so tired I just want to lay down and grab some water, I think about that and run an extra one, run two extra. When I’m in the weight room, I think about that all the time.

“I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Until Notre Dame’s 23-21 loss to Navy last Saturday, the hottest topic around South Bend wasn’t whether coach Charlie Weis would be back next year but whether Clausen would. The 22-year-old junior who expects to complete his sociology degree in May is being projected by many as a first-round pick.

Clausen, though, said he hasn’t thought much about whether he will leave Notre Dame early, saying he knows that sounds hard to believe.

“I’m just worried about the next day, the next game,” he said.

Weis said he’s not thinking about it either. He plans to check with his NFL sources to determine where Clausen will likely be taken, then talk with Clausen and his family in December.

“It isn’t like I have any idea of what’s on his mind. He has no idea what’s on my mind,” Weis said. “We’ll talk.”

Clausen said watching his backup, Dayne Crist, sustain a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago on a play where he was barely touched or Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford sustain a season-ending shoulder injury after opting not to enter the draft won’t influence his decision.

“You can’t be worried about things down the road, things in the past,” he said.

Some might view the statement by Casey as placing a heavy burden on his little brother. Clausen doesn’t feel that way.

“To be honest, I have fun with it. People always say there’s a lot of pressure on me, but I don’t think I’d want it any other way. I don’t know any other way,” he said.

He said he’s focused this week on No. 8 Pittsburgh (8-1), which provides Clausen a chance to post the biggest victory of his career.

So far, Weis describes Clausen’s defining moment as this season’s 24-21 victory over Purdue.

Clausen had to leave that game because he was hobbled by turf toe, but returned with the game on the line. On Notre Dame’s final drive, he completed 6 of 9 passes for 69 yards, capping the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with 24.8 seconds to play.

“Until that game, the only question marks you could have with this kid were: Could he run that 2-minute drive at the end of the game to win? And did he have that all-day toughness that most of the great ones have?” Weis said. “In that game against Purdue, those two things both matriculated. I think he showed toughness and showed that he could have that great drive to win a game at the end of the game.”

Great drives to win the game against a Purdue team that now has a 4-6 record is not what legends are made of at Notre Dame. But a win this week against Pittsburgh might help, especially because the Irish have lost seven straight to Top 10 teams.

Weis believes Clausen always gives the Irish a chance.

“The best thing you know is when you have a quarterback like Jimmy Clausen, there isn’t a game you go into that you aren’t expecting to win. When you have a quarterback like this, you say: Well, how is the game going to go? I say, “Is Clausen going to be the quarterback? And he wants that burden.”

Clausen knows about carrying burdens.