SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Jimmy Clausen was a high school quarterback on a practice field surrounded by players who would eventually get college scholarships when Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis noticed something special.
It wasn't Clausen's knowledge of the game, the way he ran the offense or his ability to throw the ball, although Weis was impressed by all that. It was how on a team loaded with players such as Marc Tyler, now a USC tailback, and Casey Matthews, now an Oregon linebacker, Clausen was the player everyone looked to for leadership.
"He definitely had command of that team," Weis said. "It was interesting watching him in practice because you think with all these top-line athletes that there'd be a divvying of that, and there wasn't. He was definitely the leader."
The Fighting Irish (0-1) will be looking for that leadership when they take the field Saturday to face No. 14 Penn State (1-0). Notre Dame is coming off its worst offensive outing in five years in a 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech.
Clausen will have plenty of obstacles to overcome, including an offensive line that did little last week to slow Georgia Tech's blitz, more than 107,000 fans at Beaver Stadium and being the first Notre Dame quarterback in at least 56 years to start in just his second game as a freshman.
Clausen is up to the challenge, said Bill Redell, his coach at Oaks Christian High School team in Westlake, Calif.
"He has an intellectual approach to the game," Redell said. "He's very calm, very reserved. He's not going to be intimidated by the crowd. The big thing about Jimmy is his ability to compete. He has all the throws and all that, but his biggest strength is his ability to compete. He's a winner."
Clausen, who led Oaks Christian to a 42-0 record as a starter, has been groomed for this moment since he was 10, Redell said. Clausen watched his older brothers, Casey and Rick, both major college starting quarterbacks, go through the recruiting process and play at Tennessee, watching from the sidelines and soaking everything in.
Steve Clarkson, who has been personal quarterback coach to Clausen and his two brothers, said Clausen learned all the do's and don'ts from watching his brothers.
"He was always with Casey when Casey got interviewed. He understood that element of it at a very early age," Clarkson said. "That's why he's been able to really treat this as second nature because even though he wasn't the one actually doing it, it rubbed off on him."
Clarkson, who also has worked with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, believes Clausen has the physical tools to succeed.
"The thing that separates him more than anything is he has a lot of skills within his arsenal that are 'A' game, whether it's his release, his footwork, his pocket presence, his decision making," Clarkson said.
Weis describes Clausen as calm and laid back, saying he always remains composed. Weis said the only excitement Clausen has shown about being named the starter is to smile.
"I said, 'Are you ready to go?' And he just gets that little grin on his face and says, 'Yeah, I'm ready."'
Redell said the fact that Clausen was on the sidelines for so many games at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, which seats more than 102,000, should help him at Penn State.
"It's not going to affect his performance. If anything, I think it will make him play better," Redell said. "The bigger the crowd, the better Jimmy plays."
Weis said the thing he wants to impress most on Clausen preparing for his first start is to not dwell on bad plays.
"I think often young players let one bad play parlay into a whole bunch of bad plays," he said.
Enrolling in January -- the first Irish quarterback ever to do that -- allowed Clausen to learn the offense, Weis said. He was the No. 1 quarterback after spring practice, but arthroscopic elbow surgery to remove a bone spur on his throwing arm slowed his progress.
Clarkson said Clausen still isn't 100 percent, but he's ready to lead the Irish.
Weis said he has no doubt Clausen will be successful.
"I'm not hoping it, it's what I believe," Weis said.
Redell also believes Clausen is ready.
"Now he's not going to go win every game at Notre Dame. I'm not even sure he'll beat Penn State," Redell said. "But before it's over, he'll make the people at Notre Dame glad to have him."