Clausen bounces back

You can't keep a good man down. Exhibit A: Vol quarterback Rick Clausen.

Moments after learning he'd been passed over for the starting job in Tennessee's opener, Clausen made a brief statement to reporters last Saturday, then walked away. Once he had a couple of days to deal with his disappointment, however, Clausen is showing the class and poise that have made him a fan favorite.

"I have to prepare for UAB just like I'm the starter," he noted Tuesday. "Like Coach Fulmer said: There's two starters on this football team but Erik (Ainge) is getting the start in the game."

Clausen's frustration was obvious on Saturday. It also was understandable.

"He was disappointed," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "I would be very upset at him if he wasn't disappointed. If you're a competitor and you want to play, you're going to be disappointed if you don't start. "But he's responded in the right way. You go through maybe a day of shock and maybe a day of mourning, then you're right back ready to go to work. I thought he had a good day of practice yesterday (Monday). Rick is going to handle this the right way."

Clausen echoed that sentiment.

"I'm just going to act the same way I've always acted," he said. "I'm not one to flip-flop my attitude or demeanor. I'm just going to go out and be me. If people like that, great. If people don't, that's their problem. But I'm going to go out there and have fun. This is my last year, so no matter what happens I'm going to go out there and have fun with the guys."

Team player that he is, Clausen declined to debate head coach Phillip Fulmer's decision to go with Ainge.

"The quarterback situation is handled," Clausen said. "It's taken care of. Coach Fulmer's made the decision, and we're just going to go with it like that. We both wear the same jerseys. We both have the same T on the helmet. We're both on the offensive side of the football and we're both trying to get wins for Tennessee."

Even so, the Great Quarterback Debate split the Big Orange Nation. Many fans pulled for Ainge. Many pulled for Clausen. Some still think Clausen should've won the job. That may keep a few of them from vocally supporting Ainge in Saturday's opener.

"Whether they cheer for me and not cheer for Erik … they shouldn't do that," Clausen said. "Erik competed just as hard as I did. Me and Erik are still really good friends. I talked to Erik once he got the job; I gave him a hug and said congratulations. That's just the way it is.

"Sometimes things don't work out in your favor and you've just got to deal with it. There's no animosity between me and Erik."

Although he's still dealing with his own disappointment, Clausen can empathize with the exhilaration Ainge is feeling these days.

"I feel so excited for Erik," he said, "just because I know how hard he's worked coming back from injury."


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