By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
Rick Clausen, brother of a former Vols QB, was thought of as a backup but will start against UF.
GAINESVILLE - Little brothers are used to being overlooked. Oftentimes it comes with the territory.
So while many doubted Rick Clausen's ability to play quarterback at a major Division I school, he never wavered in his belief in himself.
The younger brother of former Vols quarterback Casey Clausen, Rick played in seven games for Tennessee last season, with four starts at the end of the year. Yet, most Vols fans naturally assumed he would return this season to his backup role to sophomore star Erik Ainge.
Clausen was fueled by the naysayers.
"Any time you're a competitor and people tell you that you can't do it, I think it gives you just a little bit more motivation to prove everybody else wrong," he said. "Being the younger brother of Casey, a lot of people have always said, "You're not like Casey. You're not like this. You're not like that.' I always said "okay' and just kind of nodded my head. ... Everything will always work out for itself and that's the only thing that I can really worry about."
When No.5 Tennessee plays at No.6 Florida Saturday night, Clausen will start at quarterback.
Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said he will share time with Ainge. His teammates say that's just fine.
"The only thing that's different is that one is right-handed, one is left-handed (Clausen)," receiver Chris Hannon said. "All our routes are pretty much timing and we know when we have to be out, so it really doesn't matter who's throwing the ball. ... Ainge has a very strong powerful arm and Rick has timing like no other quarterback I've ever been associated with."
Clausen arrived in Knoxville in 2003 after transferring from LSU. While he was with the Tigers, there were eight quarterbacks on the roster. And although he estimates he was second or third on the depth chart, he worried that he could fall into the abyss. After all, how many quarterbacks does a team really need?
So he decided to leave.
He was primed to finally get his chance at UT when the upstart Ainge arrived. The nephew of former NBA star Danny Ainge, Erik has height (6 feet 6), arm strength and mobility. Last season, Ainge threw for 1,452 yards, ranking second on the UT freshman list, and threw a freshman school record 17 touchdowns.
But when he went down with a separated shoulder against Notre Dame, Clausen stepped in. He started the final four games, earning Cotton Bowl offensive MVP honors.
Still, when he arrived at SEC Media Days in July, many asked: why Clausen and not Ainge? He insists none of it bothered him.
"That's fine. Everybody is entitled to their own opinions," Clausen said. "... Everybody who doubted me and thought Erik Ainge was going to be the starter, that's fine. I don't need people patting me on the back telling me "you're doing a great job,' "you're the man.' I don't need that. I just want the respect of my teammates and as long as we win football games, that's what counts."
Ainge picked apart the Florida secondary last season in a 30-28 win, so the Gators know what to expect from him. Clausen is another story.
Florida coach Urban Meyer said Tennessee has what he envisions for his own program - two talented quarterbacks able to step in at any time.
Meyer called Ainge "as talented a quarterback as there is," but said Clausen also impresses him.
"With Rick Clausen, all that kid does is win games," Meyer said. "All I keep hearing is, "Yeah, but his arm strength.' His arm strength is fine. Just ask Texas A&M how his arm strength is. He's not very mobile, but he's mobile enough to win games."
Rick and Casey talk daily and have spent time over the phone this week breaking down Florida's defense and talking about playing at the Swamp.
Rick isn't Casey, but the two have at least one thing in common: Rick wants nothing more than to walk off Florida Field on Saturday night having defeated Florida.
Just like his big brother did two years ago. His plan is to follow his brother's advice and not get caught up in the hype.
"(Casey) told me to enjoy it," he said. "I was down in Gainesville when I was at LSU in 2002 and it's a great atmosphere. It'll be a fun time. Everybody tries to get all wrapped up in the whole Swamp thing and the Florida-Tennessee rivalry and things like that, but basically it comes down to executing and the team that executes best will win. Florida is a very good football team and we know we are going to get their best shot. We can't worry about that, we have to worry about ourselves.
So far, that's served Clausen very well.