CHARLOTTE – From the crush of reporters and their menacing microphones recording his every thought, to the legions of fans putting all their hopes and dreams on his shoulders, Jimmy Clausen has been there before.
"There was a lot of attention being at Notre Dame, and there's a lot of attention being here in Carolina," Clausen said. "You're in a fishbowl at all times."
Some in Clausen's position might see that as a bad thing, but Clausen chooses to see the fishbowl as half-full.
To some, it's a feeding frenzy. To Clausen, the opportunity to make his first NFL start is feeding time.
"The biggest thing is to just have fun with it throughout the whole process," said Clausen, who will start three weeks into his NFL career against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. "We're in a unique situation, being an athlete playing in the National Football League, and it's an honor. That's how you have to take it."
Clausen knows this is serious business, and he's taking it as such. He's doing everything in his power to prepare to beat the Bengals, and he's been working toward this moment his entire football life.
Clausen understands that he's got a job to do. He just happens to love his job.
"He loves football -- you can definitely tell," running back Jonathan Stewart said. "He loves playing football, and he's happy to have to opportunity now to go in there and show what he can do.
"Jimmy has a lot of energy to him. He's just a good kid."
Clausen has long been the center of attention on the football field, from his record-setting days at Oaks Christian School in California to his decision to take his talents to college football mecca Notre Dame to his surprising slip to the second round of the NFL draft in April.
Often portrayed as the golden boy with the golden arm upon his arrival in South Bend, Ind., things didn't always go his way. He took over as starter the second game of his freshman year in 2007 – the earliest quarterback debut in the program's illustrious history – but could do little to salvage a disastrous 3-9 season.
Clausen left Notre Dame after his junior season ranking first or second in school history in 32 passing categories, but he left with a losing record.
"Something else I learned at Notre Dame: You have to stay even-keel, when things are going good and when things are going bad," Clausen said. "I struggled with that early on in my career at Notre Dame, but I learned from that experience."
Indeed, the bumps along the road may have helped things go more smoothly in his indoctrination into the NFL. Clausen seems to have meshed well with his new teammates, some of whom are probably still snickering over his self-deprecating performance of a Backstreet Boys tune during a rookie talent show at training camp.
"He's more humble than I thought he would be," defensive end Everette Brown said. "He came in and worked, learned the playbook and waited his turn."
Since head coach John Fox's announcement Monday that Clausen would start against the Bengals, Clausen has been inundated with well-wishes. Among them: Charlie Weis -- his head coach at Notre Dame -- and current New York Jets quarterback and fellow California high school standout Mark Sanchez.
"It's been fun, talking to a lot of people that I haven't talked to in a while," Clausen said. "I've dreamt of this my whole life, being a starter in the National Football League.
"It's going to be a fun week."