Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, in the last couple weeks. Interesting stuff as always from him. Anyway, his opening chapter about the hockey players born in January being the most successful in their sport got me thinking something about the ND football team. I think his theory makes a lot of sense. If you are older in your class than your peers, there is a physical and psychological advantage throughout your childhood. I think everyone can think of someone from their grade school who dominated in middle school sports because he had an older birthday and was more physically and mentally mature than the other kids in his class. Everything sort of builds on itself. An older kid might get more playing time and more attention from coaches. Suddenly that kid is brimming with confidence that carries with him through the rest of his athletic career and gives him a mental edge over his peers. It makes some sense, and I bet studies would show similar results in other sports besides hockey.
Isn't Jimmy Clausen the perfect example of this theory?? Clausen was held back a year in grade school and also started kindergarten a year late. Think about his athletic life for a bit:
Clausen was born September 21, 1987, so he entered kindergarten at the age of 6 and turned 7 within a month of starting school. For point of reference, I was 5 when I entered kindergarten and didn't turn 6 until April. Clausen would have been almost a year and a half older than your average kindergartner. Could you imagine a 7 year old playing peewee football against 5 year olds?? Think about how much confidence you would have playing against kids two years younger than you at all times. Is there any doubt that his age probably had a huge impact on his athletic career??
Clausen also repeated 6th grade, which meant that he turned 16 in September of his freshman year. Clausen was able to drive in the first month of his FRESHMAN year! That's amazing! I didn't have a driver's license until the end of my sophomore year. That's not necessarily an athletic advantage, but it's still pretty cool. It's kind of nice to always be the first to do something in your class, and he was the first to do things by over a year. You could say there's maybe even a social advantage to being the first to do everything.
Clausen graduated high school at the age of 19 in December 2006. He is going to turn 22 this year in September, and will be 23 for most of next year's college football season. That's amazing to me. If he had actually redshirted in college, he would have been 24 for his 5th year of football.
Clausen's parents essentially "redshirted" him as a kid. Isn't that how you would describe it?? He started kindergarten a year late (heck, there are there were probably kids in his class who turned 5 in September or October and were actually two years younger than him) and repeated 6th grade. Isn't he pretty much the textbook example of Gladwell's "Outlier"?? His age probably gave him a substantial advantage as a kid in athletics, and that carried with him throughout his career. Playing against younger kids probably gave him a ton of confidence that still benefits him to this day. And now he's the starting QB at Notre Dame and probably headed to the NFL someday. I wouldn't be surprised if Gladwell's book prompts a "child redshirt" trend, and I also think you'll see more and more people trying to plan out pregnancies to give their kid a leg up on the school calendar.
Now obviously you need to have the athletic ability to get as far as Clausen did, but I think Gladwell's theory makes sense when applied to Clausen. If he hadn't always been older than his peers, would he have made it all the way to Notre Dame?? Maybe he would have made it either way, but I think there's something to that theory. If your kid is older than his peers, he's probably going to have an advantage in sports. I definitely think his age contributed to his reputation as "The Lebron James of High School Football." Clausen has been decent thus far and could still end up being a great one, but he hasn't lived up to the ridiculous hype at this point. Clausen came to college about as polished as you could get for a quarterback, but some of his weaknesses (athletic ability, pocket instincts, mobility) have caught up to him now that he's been playing against better and more mature athletes. That doesn't mean he can't be a great player at ND. He's still got a great arm and great accuracy, and he's going to be one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation. Even if he doesn't turn out to be the next John Elway, it still doesn't mean he's a bust or anything like that. If he ends up having a Danny Wuerffel type career, I certainly won't call that a disappointment.
As mentioned earlier, Clausen will be turning 22 this year in September. 22 is the age that most kids graduate from college. In other words, his junior year is the equivalent of a lot of senior years for other 22 year old football players. If Clausen has a big year and ND goes 10-2 or better, are we going to be at risk of losing him to the NFL after this year?? If he comes back for his senior year, he would be 23 heading into the NFL Draft in April of 2011 (and really he'd be closer to 24 by that point). Would it hurt his draft stock by then if he's that old by the time he entered the draft?? I wonder if NFL teams would view him as having less potential or something like that.
One good thing for ND fans on this front is that the 2010 NFL Draft appears to be loaded at the QB position. If Clausen declared for the draft after this season, he'd be entering with Bradford and McCoy and Tebow. That's a fairly good group already, and that's before you take into account the other surprises that usually emerge over the course of a football season. Clausen would be joining a pretty loaded QB draft if he left after this year, so maybe that would deter him from declaring. Maybe he'd be the signature guy in the 2011 NFL Draft if he waited another year.
Obviously all this discussion is premature since Clausen hasn't really proven at this point that he's even an NFL quarterback let alone someone who is going to enter the draft early. However, I do think the stars are aligned for him to have a big year and for the Irish to get back on the map with a 9-10 win season or more. If that happens, I guess it's possible that Clausen would consider going to the NFL considering his age. Then again, 2010 would be looking like a year where we could make a national title run, so hopefully Clausen would stick around and come back for his senior year.