Clausen's a real team player

Junior Rick Clausen was understandably disappointed when Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer announced in August that freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer would share the No. 1 quarterback job. Still, he worked to improve his skills and to maintain a positive outlook.

That work has paid off. Now that Ainge and Schaeffer are sidelined by shoulder injuries, Clausen finds himself in the starting lineup for Game 10 Saturday at Vanderbilt. Asked if there were times this season when he wondered if he'd ever take the field again, Clausen shook his head.

''No, just because I knew situations like this occur,'' he said. ''It's a contact sport, and people get hurt. That's the unfortunate side of things but it just goes to show that you always have to be prepared to play.''

Once Clausen learned that he had been relegated to backup status behind Schaeffer and Ainge, he could have envied them. Instead, he HELPED them. He watched film with them, regularly showing them things their untrained eyes might have missed. He also offered tips during practices and games. It was the kind of unselfish actions you'd expect from a team player.

''Once Coach named those two guys starters, I tried to help them as much as possible,'' Clausen said. ''Regardless of who the quarterback was, we needed to win games. If it wasn't me, then I was going to give them every edge possible so they'd be prepared and perform to the best of their abilities so we could win. That's the bottom line: We need to win games.''

In the process of helping Schaeffer and Ainge, Clausen helped himself. Watching them so closely kept him tuned in to what the Vols were doing each week. That attention to detail will help now that he's directing the offense instead of just watching it.

''I think it does,'' he said. ''While you're on the field playing in the game, it's a lot more blurry. When you're standing on the sidelines you get to see a little more in-depth. You see a lot more people, not just focus on certain individuals.''

Head coach Phillip Fulmer appreciates the team spirit Clausen exhibited during his lengthy stay on the Vol bench. He also appreciates Clausen's football savvy and leadership.

''Rick has a personality that's a real plus for him,'' Fulmer said. ''He can rally the troops. His best asset as a football player is his ability to think, to understand what's happening, to see and recognize coverages very quickly. From that aspect, we're probably ahead of the game, compared to where the freshmen were.

''I believe he'll be very good at directing our offense. He can do a few more things at the line of scrimmage. He'll probably check a bit more (to different plays). He has all the intangibles a quarterback shoud have, including being a tremendous team guy.''

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