- Tom Friend, ESPN Senior Writer
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Jimmy Clausen enrolled at Notre Dame to learn about the NFL. Looks like he's learned enough.
Following the advice of deposed Irish coach Charlie Weis, Clausen has decided to forgo his senior season and enter this April's draft. Rated as perhaps the top quarterback in this year's class, he is believed to be coveted by St. Louis, Cleveland and Washington -- three teams that will conceivably pick in the top five.
"After the season, in talking to my parents and obviously Coach Weis, I just feel it's the right time," Clausen told ESPN.com on Monday before a news conference in South Bend. "Coach Weis told me whether he was going to be here or not be here, it was time for me to go. He thought I've improved so much since I came to Notre Dame. So, I'm taking his advice, and I'm going to head out."
Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate also announced he will enter the draft Monday.
"With the year I had this year, it was kind of hard to stay. To be honest, I don't think I can do much better next year or any year, so I think the time is right," Tate said at a news conference.
Weis said in a prepared statement released by the school that he thinks the players have a great chance to be successful in the NFL.
"They made big play after big play week after week this fall -- and there's no question they are two of the best players in the nation at their respective positions," he said.
The consensus No. 1 high school recruit in the country three years ago, Clausen chose Notre Dame over USC solely because of Weis' NFL pedigree. Weis -- who tutored both Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe in New England -- assured Clausen he would prepare him best for the pro game, and Clausen rewarded the coach with a spectacular junior season.
He completed 68 percent of his passes, and threw 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions -- three of which were tipped. Weis has told NFL scouts that Clausen "didn't miss a read all year," and particularly raved about his accuracy and personal growth.
As a freshman, coming off elbow surgery, Clausen weighed only 190 pounds and played behind a porous offensive line. He was vilified during that year's 3-9 season, but bounced back as a sophomore to lead Notre Dame to its first bowl victory since 1994 (over Hawaii). In the offseason before his junior year, he invited several Irish receivers to his home in Westlake Village, Calif., and the bonding experience paid off. He was picked as a team captain, and ended up throwing 24 of his touchdowns to wide receivers Tate and Michael Floyd.
The Irish slumped to a 6-6 finish, and Clausen was sucker punched by a fan outside of a South Bend bar after a devastating overtime loss to Connecticut. But six days later, he threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns at Stanford, and his ability to persevere is why several general managers, who have requested anonymity, believe he is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year's draft. They say he's already mastered an NFL offense, has already been subjected to a leaky offensive line and has already been part of a rebuilding process. They like that he played his entire college career on national TV and that he thrived in one of the biggest fishbowls in sports: Notre Dame.
"The scrutiny of being the quarterback at Notre Dame and the head coach at Notre Dame is tough," said Clausen, who is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. "And I think it'll prepare me really well for the next level."
Clausen's other advantage, according to scouts, is that he's already 22 and has already been away from home to play football -- meaning the transition to the pro lifestyle won't be an issue. The other top-rated quarterbacks in the upcoming draft -- Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Colt McCoy of Texas, to name two -- went to college in their home states.
"I don't think I could've gone to a better place to get prepared to play than under someone like Coach Weis," Clausen said. "The NFL is something I've always wanted to do since I was a little kid growing up. It's just a dream come true, and I'm just having a great time right now.
"It'll probably be just like going from high school to college, but a lot faster than college is. Obviously, being under Coach Weis, being in a pro-style offense, knowing the terminologies, will help me. But the biggest thing will probably be just getting in the playbook and mentally preparing myself to do everything I can to get on the field as quick as I can and help whichever team I go to win."
Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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