When a Helena newspaper asked for his favorite quote, Drew Clausen told them this:
“Follow your heart and you’ll never go wrong.”
Clausen’s heart guided him home after three seasons in Helena, two of them as a starting wide receiver for Carroll College, helping the Saints win the 2010 NAIA national championship and reach the national championship game again in 2011. Clausen will vie for a starting spot at wide receiver at Whitworth University when practices begin next week.
“After my senior year in high school, I really wanted to play in a championship team,” the former West Valley quarterback said. “We lost in the state championship game my senior year and that was a difficult loss for me to take.”
After an all-state senior season at quarterback for the Eagles, Clausen spent a redshirt season at Carroll learning to play wide receiver and followed that up with two seasons as a starter.
But Clausen admits that his heart wasn’t completely into playing wide receiver in the Fighting Saints’ traditional, run-oriented offense and yearned for a more wide-open system that would allow his athleticism to flourish.
“It’s a very successful offense and I’m not knocking it, but as a wide receiver you spend most of your time blocking,” Clausen said. “When they do throw, it’s about possession, not about yards after the catch.”
That meant that Clausen’s two most explosive attributes, his speed and athleticism, were underused. With his goal of winning a championship already met, the urge to show what he could do with a football in his hands grew stronger and stronger.
“I started for two years and caught just 30 balls; it just wasn’t a great fit,” he said. “Still, I have to say that it was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make – leaving Carroll.”
Clausen didn’t have a destination in mind when he left Carroll. Linfield, which recruited him as a quarterback out of high school, was the first team to contact him once his paperwork was signed. Portland State was interested, but playing for a Big Sky team would mean sitting out a season before being eligible.
“I knew I didn’t want to sit out another year since I’d already done that as a redshirt freshman,” Clausen said. “Linfield was pretty much where I was going to go and it was almost a done deal.”
Almost being the operative word in that sentence.
Clausen’s father, Kirk, is a football coach at Mt. Spokane with deep ties to Whitworth. Former Mt. Spokane standout Joel Clark, himself a former All-Northwest Conference standout for the Pirates, is now the Whitworth quarterbacks coach. And Clausen’s former teammate at West Valley, Bryan Peterson, is the Whitworth starting quarterback. Each took a turn trying to convince him that he need look no further than north Spokane for his next football home.
“Joel’s pretty much been my quarterback coach the whole time I was growing up and I was Bryan’s backup at quarterback his senior season,” Clausen said. “But I looked at Whitworth and that offense looked a lot like the one we ran at Carroll. They had a great running back in Ronnie Thomas and I didn’t want to be in that kind of a system again.
“But they talked to me and told me that Ronnie had graduated along with their top receiver from last year – and they were going to have to be more of a throw-first team this year. “
“Drew was always really quick and athletic,” Peterson said. “That hasn’t changed. He was a great quarterback and he made the transition to receiver and I expect him to battle for that starting job. I’m excited and I know the coaching staff is excited.
“He brings speed a quickness to that position, and he has great hands as well. I know the coaching staff has already talked about putting in some screen plays where we can create space for him and let him run with the ball. Also, he can still throw the ball really well, so that opens up some trick plays. On top of it all, he’s a great guy as well.”
Clausen has spent the summer at his alma mater, working with the 2013-14 Eagles in the weight room and running speed drills with coach Vic Wallace.
“He’s been working incredibly hard and he’s been an inspiration for our guys,” West Valley coach Craig Whitney said. “He’s made himself stronger and faster.”
Clausen also has worked with former Eastern Washington and Spokane Shock standout receiver Raul Vijil.
“I don’t think you could ask for someone better to help you become a better receiver,” Clausen said. “I’ve known him and worked with him throughout my high school career and he’s taught me so much.”
What Clausen can do on the field is important for the Pirates’ prospects this season. Equally important is what he learned as part of a national championship caliber football program.
“I’ve already had several guys ask me about what that was like,” he said. “They want to know what it takes to get to that level.”
“That’s big,” Peterson said. “Especially as we get deeper into the season and the chance of winning a championship gets better and better.”