Rick Clausen

Tennessee doesn't play LSU until Sept. 24, but that hasn't kept a former Tiger from keeping one eye in the future.

Rick Clausen is the only Tennessee Vol with first-hand experience of playing in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. He knows about the tail gaiting. He knows the about the electric atmosphere. He knows about the rowdy fans.

He knows because he has actually started a game in Baton Rouge. That was in 2002 against Ole Miss. Clausen, then a weak-armed 175-pounder, didn't play well, leading to an eventual transfer to Tennessee.

Now, Clausen is 6-3, 210, has strengthened his arm and is coming off an Offensive MVP performance in the Vols' 38-7 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M.

Clausen said he's thought about what his return to LSU will be like.

``Yea, it's going to be fun,'' Clausen said. ``It's going to be a great atmosphere like it always is down in Baton Rouge. I know a lot of those guys.

``There might be some media hype around it but it's ultimately a football game. It's ultimately a tough SEC road game, just like going down to Florida or Alabama. Maybe before the game it will be more emotional, but after you get that first hit, it's football all over again.''

When Clausen left LSU, no one in the Tigers' camp felt he was an SEC player. Does he have anything to prove to LSU?

``No,'' he said. ``I don't have anything to prove to anybody right now.'' Clausen believes he has surprised the folks at LSU with his play at Tennessee.

``When I was at LSU, I don't think I was physically mature enough,'' Clausen said. ``I don't think I was ready. They just made a decision to go in a certain direction, as did I. Everything worked out for the best for both schools. I'm just happy for the situation I'm in now and thankful for the experiences and relationships I had at LSU.''

One of those relationships was with LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who called Clausen to congratulate him on reaching the SEC Championship game last season.

``He's always been positive,'' Clausen said. ``He was one of the guys it was tough to say good-bye to, just because of the way he mentored me and took me under his wing and taught me a lot about football. I owe quite a bit of my football knowledge to Coach Fisher and the way he handled me when I was at LSU. I'm forever indebted to him.''

* Rick said younger brother Jimmy Clausen, a high school junior quarterback in California who threw 59 touchdown passes last season, is wide open on his college choices - and Tennessee is in the hunt.

``Right now, if you ask me where he's going to school, I have no clue,'' Rick said. ``I don't think Jimmy has a clue. I don't think my parents have a clue. I don't think anybody has a clue.

``He could go here. He could go to Georgia, Florida, Florida State, South Carolina, USC, Notre Dame, you never know. There are so many places that have an interest in Jimmy and so many places Jimmy has an interest in.

``Right now, he's focusing on his high school football team and winning another title for his team. He's going to try to have fun with the whole recruiting process.''

The Clausen parents have been flying from coast to coast since Casey picked Tennessee in 2000. Is travel an issue?

``I don't think so,'' Rick said. ``They have always said wherever you want to go and play, we'll follow you and we'll be behind you. That's one of the things I've always been thankful for from my parents, one thing that has helped me and Casey adjust to moving across the country. They've accepted it.''

* If you had told Rick Clausen a year ago that older brother Casey would be a graduate assistant at Mississippi State, his response would have been: ``You're crazy.''

Added Rick: ``It's funny the way life turns out and the courses in life we take. You never know what can happen.''

Rick said Mississippi State is a good fit for Casey because of Woody McCorvey, Shayne Beamer and Brad Pendergrass, all of whom worked at UT. Casey also wanted to learn more about the West Coast offense.

``Casey said he wanted to learn wherever he went,'' Rick said. ``He wanted to go some place difference where he could expand his knowledge of football. Going to the West Coast offense is something that Casey should have fun with.''

Rick thinks Casey can be a good coach.

``I saw last year with the way he handled my younger brother and those kids on Jimmy's team was something I'd never seen from him before,'' Rick said. ``He had a very calm demeanor. He was always upbeat, very positive with them. He was very direct and to the point. He was talking to them in college football language but he was saying it to where those guys could understand it.''

Does going to Mississippi State signal the end of Casey's playing days?

``I don't know if Casey is done (with the NFL)'' Rick said, ``but I know he's excited to be at Mississippi State and he's looking forward to getting mentored by coach (Sylvester) Croom and Coach McCorvey. He's living each day as it comes.''

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