July 28, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
He was LA cool, yet completely embraced the SEC.
He was calm and collected in the Tennessee huddle, but these days he admits to being a bundle of nerves watching the Vols play from his living room sofa.
And though he's back in his native California, Casey Clausen proudly carries the Big Orange banner wherever he goes.
"I still keep up with all the guys I played with and I talk to a lot of them," said Clausen, who lettered for the Vols from 2000-03. "And I still talk to a lot of people in the program back there - Scott Altizer, Condredge (Holloway), Frayz (Roger Frazier), Hawk (Allen Sitzler).
"Those were great times, and I can't believe it's been almost 10 years since I graduated."
"Peyton is the best and will be always be the best who ever played at Tennessee," Clausen said. "Being mentioned in the same sentence with him is overwhelming."
Clausen arrived in Knoxville already knowing what an iconic figure Manning had become at UT. But he embraced that standard of excellence and used it to push his game to a higher level.
"He's a big reason why I went to Tennessee, and as time goes on you appreciate a lot more where you fall in those dominos of great quarterbacks at Tennessee," Clausen said. "Not only for college football but for the National Football League, Peyton is going to go down as one of the greatest of all time."
Clausen won 34 games as the starting quarterback in 44 UT starts, including a nearly perfect 14-1 mark in opponents' stadiums.
"I used to love the environment away from home," he said. "I learned a lot about the SEC going on the road, and it really was an exciting time for me. I never got intimidated by the craziness going on out there."
"I loved being out there competing with my guys in somebody else's backyard," Clausen said. "It was an `us-versus-the-world' mentality and it was a lot of fun."
Clausen finished 3-1 against Alabama and won twice in Gainesville.
"Alabama was a great rivalry game and as I got older, I understood it more," he said. "I learned what Tennessee-Alabama meant, and it definitely was a great experience playing in that game every single year.
"And that Florida game in 2001, it was unbelievable - back-and-forth, back-and-forth the whole game and a crazy atmosphere. It was great for us to get that win."
Clausen says butterflies before and during a game were never a factor for him.
"When I played, I never really got that nervous," he said. "I was just out there playing with my guys and was a pretty intense and vocal player. Now back here in California, I'm way more nervous watching on TV. It's kind of funny."
"My senior year was the one I was most proud of the guys," Clausen said of the 2003 campaign. "We had lost a lot of really good players the year before and people thought we would only win seven or eight games. We ended up winning 10 games, and it was one of the most fun years I ever had because of the guys on that team."
Clausen divides his time these days between working in his family's commercial brokerage firm and serving as offensive coordinator at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, located about 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Just a few years ago, Clausen's youngest brother, Jimmy, played quarterback at Oaks Christian, which finished 14-0 last season and won seven straight league titles. Jimmy went on to star at Notre Dame and now plays for the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Rick Clausen, who lettered at Tennessee from 2004-05 and served as a graduate assistant for the Vols in 2006, joined his older brother at both the coaching and brokerage jobs. Their sister, Katie, who also graduated from Oaks Christian and UT, is living in the area as well.
That's three Clausens and three University of Tennessee graduates - along with a fourth sibling who probably watched about 50 Vols games from the front row of the north end zone seats at Neyland Stadium.
"Yeah, Jimmy was a little guy back then," Clausen said with a laugh. "But he was there just about every week to watch me and then Rick play. That really meant a lot."
Summer passing leagues recently ended, and practice doesn't resume until the second week of August, when Clausen will begin his fourth season as an assistant coach. Rick helps his older brother coach quarterbacks.
"There are great people here and a great environment, and I'm having a lot of fun doing it."
Clausen also got engaged a little more than a month ago and just purchased his first home.
"Things are going pretty well right now," he said.
Clausen keeps close tabs on the current Vols and believes times are only going to get better under the guidance of head coach Derek Dooley and his staff..
"I like the direction Coach Dooley is taking the program, and I know Coach (Jim) Chaney really well from the time he was at Purdue and recruiting me," he said. "And Coach (Justin) Wilcox, I have gotten to know him a little bit and he seems great. I think they will be back sooner rather than later and I think things are moving in the right direction."