In 1993 Ron Powlus entered fall camp at Notre Dame as a wide-eyed freshman with a truckload of accolades, and it wasn't long before the buzz circulated about the young man with a flamethrower arm ready to take Notre Dame back to championship status.
Unfortunately for Powlus, that didn't last very long as he got hurt before he could begin his college career. The second season for Powlus, his first playing, was quite a bit better, but for a player who rarely lost a game in high school, there were plenty of bumps in the road as the Irish finished 6-5-1 on the season.
Powlus had a solid career for the Irish, starting four seasons and taking the Irish to three bowl games, but many felt the Berwick, Pa. native was the square peg in a round-hole offense run by then Irish head coach Lou Holtz. But for Clausen, he has the perfect offense for his skills in the Charlie Weis-led offense, and the expectations still remain.
"I could only relate my experiences," said Powlus when asked about the conversations he and the freshman quarterback had about their similar situations enrolling into Notre Dame. "I didn't pay attention to it one bit. Of course you know it's being said, but you have to live in your world with your team, your teammates. You can't live in someone else's world under someone else's expectations. I always had high expectations for myself anyway, so that was part of life."
Clausen also had a similar freshman season. While the team finished 3-9, there were many bright spots for the freshman quarterback despite the beating he took each and every week as a starting quarterback.
"He's got some toughness to him," Powlus said of Clausen. "I never doubted it, but you never know without seeing it. He's got some toughness. He's a hard working kid, but he's got a nice easy way about him. He's a competitor, he's a hard worker, and he's a tough kid."
Competitor, hard worker, tough kid…three things Powlus also showed as a freshman. The second-year quarterback coach said Clausen also benefited from a strong high school program just as he did.
"I was fortunate to play for a pretty good high school coach," Powlus said. "He's now the winningest coach in Pennsylvania high school history. We did a lot of film study. We talked a lot about coverage and defenses, and what they do here and there. I had a really good understanding of high school defense, which is not a college defense. There's definitely a jump to be made. Usually the hardest jump is going from doing nothing to doing a lot. I went from doing a good amount to doing more and getting more complex. There's a similarity with Jimmy. He's a guy who has been in the film room. He watches a lot of film. He's a pretty heady guy."
Film and the mental part of the game is what matters most at this level according to Powlus.
"If you're playing quarterback on the college level, you can throw the ball," Powlus explained. "You can do the physical part. There's a lot of guys in the world that can throw the football. That being a given, playing quarterback (in college), it's 80 percent mental. You've got have the physical skills, you've got to hone those and get them better, you've got to be tough physically. You've got to be able to take a beating and get back up. Those kind of things happen, so there's a fair amount of physical to it, but playing quarterback on this level is mental. It's knowing what to expect and what to do."
And that's what Clausen learned last year according to Powlus….learning what to expect.
"It's hard to point out generalities because what you learn are the specifics," he said. "You learn what this blitz looks like, what that blitz looks like. How fast a hole closes when you're making a throw, the speed of the game, how little chance you have to run away from a D-lineman. Things like that where you really learning the specifics of playing the position. Of course you're learning the offense. You're trying to get your mind wrapped around that, but really it's the little things that take you from being a guy calling the play, taking the snap and doing what you can, to really managing the offense. That's what you do from year one to year two based on those experiences."
Now that Clausen has learned the basics, the next step is to lead the team, and being a leader isn't always easy as a freshman.
"I can only speak from my experience," Powlus said when asked if he felt uncomfortable trying to be a leader as a first-time starter during his career. "My thoughts were, ‘I'm going to work as hard as I can and do everything I can do to help the team win. What comes of that is what comes of that.' I think he's got essentially the same mentality. You can't force yourself into anything. You've got to work your tail off and make your team better.
"If something needed to be said, I said it. The more you know, the more you can do, the more you can help others. That's why you work hard to put yourself in that position. He's starting to do that."
Sometimes you have to earn that respect, just as Clausen likely did with his teammates by taking the pounding last year and getting back up each and every time.
"He was really good with this," Powlus said. "I always thought, ‘we're a team. I could miss a tackle and someone runs for a touchdown just like a corner might miss a tackle for a touchdown. I get hit just like a running back gets hit.' You're a unit, you're a team. Part of your job is you get hit, and you've got to just get back up and correct mistakes."
Powlus also stated that not only does Clausen need to get better, the entire team needs to improve before Clausen's progress will make much of a difference.
"I know that he's working hard. I think he's gained a lot from the experience he had last year, as has the whole team. They all need to improve for it to matter. I think we're seeing that. He's playing happy, he's playing hard, he's got good things going right now."
But the real question: Is Powlus pleased with Clausen's progress?
"Generally speaking, sure," Powlus said. "We're moving forward. We've always got get to better. Generally we're moving in the right direction."
Unlike last year at this time, it appears the job is definitely Clausen's to lose, although Powlus didn't quite go that far confirming it.
"I think Coach Weis said it best. Evan's playing baseball and Jimmy's here, and we're thrilled for Evan, and he's doing really well, but obviously Jimmy is getting the work here," he said.
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