Showing as much cool as his older brother, however, Rick began biding his time instead of wasting it. Instead of hanging his head; he was hanging on.
Rick continued to work just as hard as before and he continued to soak up knowledge like a sponge. This paid big dividends -- for him and Tennessee. When Schaeffer and Ainge suffered season-ending injuries in back-to-back games, Clausen suddenly found himself thrust into the first-team role. He responded like a champion, guiding the Vols to defeats of Vanderbilt and Kentucky and a competitive loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. He capped his Cinderella story with an MVP-winning performance in the Vols' rousing 38-7 pasting of Texas A & M in the Cotton Bowl.
All in a day's work, he says.
''Our backup has to be ready,'' he said recently. ''That's one thing I was kind of proud of myself about ... that I was ready. I didn't slack off when I was No. 3. I didn't put my head in the dirt and enjoy the season. I stayed focused, stayed the course and kept learning, so if it (opportunity) did pop up I'd be ready to play.''
So, where did he get this determination?
''I think a little bit of that had to do with my dad,'' he said, referring to former college coach Jim Clausen. ''I talked to my dad a few times (last fall) and he told me to stay focused, things will happen. I learned at LSU that you have to be ready. I was the No. 3 guy, then Matt Mauck got hurt and Marcus Randall struggled a little bit and I went in against Ole Miss.''
Having learned first-hand that the No. 3 quarterback is just a couple of mishaps from the starting line, Clausen stayed in the games mentally last fall, even though he wasn't in them physically. He knew a bench-warmer can be thrust into the limelight at any time.
''I've been in the situation before,'' he said. ''Me being older and more mature (than when he was No. 3 at LSU) helped the situation a lot. I'm thankful for the opportunity. Unfortunately, it had to be because Erik and Brent got hurt but that's just the nature of the game.''
Despite his dazzling performance in the Cotton Bowl, Clausen opened spring practice bracketed No. 1 with Ainge and Schaeffer. That's OK with Rick.
''It's not where you start,'' he said. ''It's where you finish.''