‘Rocky Top’s’ Clausen a bonafide Heisman contender

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 2, 2002

BNI Newswire

BIRMINGHAM – Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days featured two Heisman Trophy candidates. Mississippi’s Eli Manning and Florida’s Rex Grossman were on hand to field questions on how it felt to be thrust into the middle of a myriad of media hype and, at times, unwanted extra attention.

On Thursday, University of Tennessee Heisman hopeful Casey Clausen was on hand representing the Volunteers and faced many of the same questions as did Manning and Grossman.

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Oddly enough, Clausen and Manning each had the same mentor, Peyton Manning. The Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback and former Heisman candidate spent time recently with Clausen in Knoxville.

"He was a big part of the recruiting process for me," Clausen said. "He’s helped me on the field as well as off the field. He’s a great person and has helped me so much."

Vols coach Phillip Fulmer expounded on just how much help Manning gave Clausen.

"Peyton helped so much just coming back and spending time with Casey," Fulmer explained. "When he got here he didn’t understand how to prepare. He didn’t know how to watch film and study. Peyton helped him in those areas."

While Clausen has turned into a viable candidate for college football’s most coveted individual award, no one, including Fulmer, was sure it could ever happen.

Things didn’t start well for Clausen, but when he finally bought into doing what the coaches wanted him to do, Fulmer said the junior-to-be came into his own.

"He’d love to have been a gun slinger," Fulmer said. "But we like to do it a certain way. As he started doing the things we asked him to do the way we asked him to do them, he got better. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t want to be brought along slowly. He wanted the whole package."

"I am quicker, stronger and have more command of our offense," Clausen said. "Coach Fulmer has given me the reigns. We’re going to throw the whole package out there this season."

The only question remaining about Clausen isn’t his ability, it’s whether or not he can handle the pressure of being a Heisman Trophy favorite. He said Thursday it is not something he is really even concerned with.

"I believe my No. 1 focus should be on winning football games," Clausen confessed. "That’s what I want to do the most. If you go out and win those games, the awards will take care of themselves."