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Clausen opts for NFL Draft: ‘One of my lifelong dreams’

Michael Bryan | Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jimmy Clausen, regarded as the top high school recruit in his class after committing to Notre Dame, could be the first player off the board in the NFL. The junior appears to be a first-round lock and in the early discussion as the No. 1 pick.

“Growing up as a kid, one of my lifelong dreams has been to play in the NFL and with that being said, with the support of my family and coaches I will be forgoing my senior year and entering the 2010 NFL Draft,” Clausen said.

Despite playing only three seasons, Clausen leaves South Bend with his name all over the Irish record books. He ranks second in career passing yards and touchdown passes, and set records for passer rating and completion percentage this season.

Clausen broke out as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in 2009, passing for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns against only four interceptions.

The junior said following the season, former Irish coach Charlie Weis said it was time to take his game to the next level.

“The first conversation [Weis] just told me I’m ready to go,” Clausen said. “Whether he was going to be here or not, it was my time to go. He thinks I’m ready for the NFL.”

As a high school prospect at Oaks Christian High School in California, Clausen was one of the most highly touted recruits of the decade, never losing a game in his career. Called “the LeBron James of high school football” and “the kid with the golden arm,” Clausen committed to Notre Dame on the weekend of the Blue-Gold Game following his junior year at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend.

After enrolling a semester early in 2007, Clausen and Notre Dame struggled throughout his freshman season.

Battling injuries after off-season elbow surgery and being sacked a team-record 34 times, Clausen and the Irish won only three games and finished with the most losses in school history.

“I’ve made leaps and bounds since I came in as a freshman,” Clausen said Monday. “I think I’ve worked really hard. I give coach Weis and [quarterbacks] coach [Ron] Powlus all the credit for making me the player I am today.”

Clausen began to display his talent on an improved unit in 2008, passing for more than 3,000 yards and recording 25 touchdowns for the Irish. The quarterback was the co-MVP of Notre Dame’s 49-21 Hawaii Bowl win, snapping a nine-game bowl losing streak for the program.

The best year of Clausen’s career came in 2009, as he finished second in the nation in passing efficiency. Clausen led the Irish to several close victories early in the season, including a fourth-down touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with 25 seconds left at Purdue and a go-ahead drive with less than two minutes left against Washington.

“I don’t think we could have done more than we did the past year,” Clausen said. “Golden [Tate] has played great, I’ve done my part. I think this is just the best time for us to go out.”

Despite not accomplishing goals of leading Notre Dame back to the BCS, Clausen said it was time to move on.

“When you come to a college program you want to go to the national championship and win as many games as you can. Obviously, we didn’t really do that and didn’t reach our full potential,” Clausen said.

While many viewed Clausen’s choice to go the NFL as a foregone conclusion, the junior said it was a tough decision.

“I’ve always wanted to play professional football. But at the same time I’m going to leave a lot of good friends and people that I have met here and that are going to be my friends for the rest of my life,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard transition for me.”

Clausen will hand the reigns of the team over to sophomore Dayne Crist, who is currently recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

“[Crist is] going to do a great job,” Clausen said. “I told him to get healthy as fast as he can and get these guys going.”

While excited about realizing his dream of playing in the NFL and seeing what his future holds, Clausen said he will miss the experiences and relationships he built at Notre Dame.

“When I think about not being here next semester and next year, it gives me the chills,” Clausen said. “It’s been a great time in my life, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

For a full profile of Clausen that ran before Notre Dame’s matchup with USC earlier this season click here.