Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bittersweet Send-off

Yesterday, Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate announced their plans to enter the 2010 NFL Draft. While many people had expected Clausen and Tate to forgo their senior seasons at ND, this was the announcement that fans were hoping would never come. We dreamed of seeing that familiar TD duo - #7 to #23 - for one more chance at Irish magic in 2010. Every Division 1 college football player may aspire to "play on Sundays," but only a small percentage have the tools necessary to make it to that next level. After speaking with their coaches and families, Jimmy and Golden decided they were ready for the challenge. It was time to make their own dreams come true.

For soon-to-be second semester juniors like myself, it comes as a disappointment that we won't have a chance to watch Jimmy and Golden (Keenan Hall's most famous Knight) shine on Saturday afternoons next season. During that nightmare season of '07, I remember thinking to myself, "This team is going to be dangerous when I'm a senior." The talent and potential were evident in glimpses during 2007, they began to emerge in 2008, and I thought with another couple of years playing together, this team could legitimately make a run at a national title in 2010. But things don't always work out as hoped.

The Irish struggled in 2009, losing several games that looked like easy wins when the schedule was first released. Despite these team struggles, Clausen and Tate managed to shine in nearly every game. Up until back-to-back losses to Navy and Pittsburgh, setting the Irish at 6-4, both were consistently being mentioned in the Heisman conversation. Whether in victory (15-18, 315 yards, 4 TD vs. Nevada) or defeat (23-30, 340 yards, 5 TD vs. Stanford), Clausen established himself as one of the premiere QBs in the nation. Like Clausen, Tate did everything in his power to help the Irish, racking up 93 catches for 1,496 yards and 15 TDs. Not to mention Tate was electrifying out of the "wildcat" formation and his catches, broken tackles and athleticism left fans speechless on several occasions. Even during games when it seemed like the Irish were down and out, Clausen and Tate kept things exciting, offering highlight reel after highlight reel for Sportscenter and the ND football archives.

As a member of the Class of 2011, I've now seen three of the most frustrating seasons in ND football history. Watching Jimmy and Golden has been one of the highlights of these disappointing seasons, and like so many others, I was hoping for another chance to watch #7 and #23 shine for the Irish. Ultimately however, deciding to enter the draft was the right decision for both of them. 2010 will feature a yet-to-be-determined head coach (Brian Kelly possibly?) and a new system. There is the risk of injury, a problem that plagued Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford after he decided to return to Norman for another year. There's no doubt that these factored into Clausen's decision to leave.

With Batman heading out the door, it only made sense for Robin to follow him to the NFL. Nothing against Dayne Crist, as I think he has the potential to emerge as a great player himself, but it would be difficult for Golden to improve his draft stock, by coming back to ND for a season with a young, inexperienced QB at the helm.

At the end of the 2007 season, if anyone told me that Clausen (the QB who was sacked 34 times) and Tate (the receiver who could only run fly patterns) would declare for the draft after their junior seasons, I would've called them crazy. Now here they are with the potential to make a profound impact on a team at the next level. Clausen could be a top 10 pick. Only time will tell where Tate ends up. As he said, "I’ve talked with a few people, and I think they predict me to go between the first and the seventh (final) round." Whatever the case may be, Clausen and Tate have made Irish fans proud, and given us something to cheer about during the last 3 seasons. May they have good luck and may God bless them as they strive to excel in the NFL.

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