Hu­man high­light reel

South Carolina’s Clowney eight months from be­ing No. 1 pick

SundayXtra - - SPORTS FOOTBALL - By Pete Ia­co­belli

ROCK HILL, S. C. — Blame the NFL. When Jade­veon Clowney is crunch­ing your favourite team’s quar­ter­back, ter­ror­iz­ing its of­fen­sive tack­les, knock­ing the hel­mets off its ball car­ri­ers and sin­gle­hand­edly caus­ing its of­fence to fall apart this sea­son, blame the NFL.

Be­cause the league for­bids its teams from draft­ing play­ers who are less than three years re­moved from high school, Clowney is back in South Carolina pre­par­ing for his ju­nior sea­son. If not for the rule, Clowney very likely would have been the No. 1 se­lec­tion in last spring’s NFL draft.

In­stead, he’s about eight months of good health away from be­ing the first pick in next year’s draft.

Heck, Clowney prob­a­bly could have been drafted right out of South Pointe High School, where his de­fen­sive coach re­mem­bers the then- skinny end send­ing a hel­met fly­ing the first time he stepped on the prac­tice field with the var­sity as a ninth grader.

“You’re all see­ing that now,” said Zack Sny­der, Clowney’s for­mer de­fen­sive coach at South Pointe. “I’ve been watch­ing that for years.”

Sndyer isn’t alone. Clowney has been in the spot­light since grade school. That’s one rea­son why the Game­cocks’ 6- foot- 6, 274- pound All- Amer­i­can has so far been able to han­dle the at­ten­tion that comes with be­ing a Heis­man Tro­phy con­tender and the man re­spon­si­ble for “The Hit” — his fum­ble- in­duc­ing, hel­met­pop­ping tackle in the Out­back Bowl that is still draw­ing ooohs and aaahs to­day.

“The Heis­man’s not a big deal for me,” Clowney said. “Win­ning the SEC cham­pi­onship’s a big deal to me. Get­ting drafted high is a big deal.”

His size and star­dom draw peo­ple around him, yet Clowney seems to stay grounded by not for­get­ting those who’ve helped him get this far. A po­lite and friendly 20- yearold, he uses “sir” and “ma’am” in his an­swers. He en­joys sim­ple things — fish­ing and video games.

“There’s not re­ally a lot I do,” Clowney said. “I hang with the same peo­ple I grew up with so that’s how I stay out of trou­ble.”

When Clowney saw Sny­der at the spring game and fans made a bee­line to him to say hello, the mega- star made sure he said hello to his old coach. “There was a crowd of 500 peo­ple who wanted to touch him like he was Je­sus,” Sny­der said.

It’s some­thing the de­fen­sive stand­out has dealt with since he was a young­ster.

Clowney was al­ways taller and faster than those he played against, even as an 8- year- old play­ing or­ga­nized football for the first time. Youth coach Eric Mitchell said Clowney would rush through the line on of­fence or de­fence and quickly out­run the com­pe­ti­tion.

When he got to high school and walked through South Pointe’s weight room, Clowney was a 6- 3 string bean, re­called Bobby Car­roll, Clowney’s high school coach. Still, it didn’t take him long to make an im­pact on the field.

Buf­falo Bills de­fen­sive back Stephon Gil­more, Clowney’s South Pointe and South Carolina team­mate, was var­sity quar­ter­back in high school.

“I kept won­der­ing who this guy was on my back,” Gil­more said in a phone in­ter­view.

On a trip to Clowney’s home­town, long­time fans can eas­ily rat­tle off his high school high­lights: a 70- yard sprint to chase down a re­ceiver, scor­ing three first- quar­ter touch­downs in a play­off game and a 99yard TD run.

But de­spite his ath­letic prow­ess, peo­ple who know him say Clowney is a per­son who wants to please ev­ery­one.

“He just didn’t want to say no to any­body,” Car­roll said.

Clowney’s good na­ture played a part in his sign­ing day plans when he waited al­most two weeks later to choose the Game­cocks, Car­roll said, be­cause he strug­gled to tell Clem­son coach Dabo Swin­ney and Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban, his other fi­nal­ists, that he was choos­ing South Carolina.

“He doesn’t like to dis­ap­point peo­ple,” Car­roll said.

That’s good news to NFL ex­ec­u­tives, who have an­other sea­son to eval­u­ate Clowney — though maybe he’s shown enough. Clowney is such a highly rated prospect al­ready that it has been sug­gested he should’ve taken this sea­son off to pro­tect his value.

“He wasn’t ever go­ing to do that,” Car­roll said. “He wants to play.”

So, backed by a $ 5 mil­lion in­sur­ance pol­icy, Clowney hopes to put on one last big- time show in col­lege. He was a walk­ing high­light reel even be­fore he de- hel­meted Michi­gan’s Vin­cent Smith in the Out­back Bowl with any achieve­ment up on YouTube in sec­onds. He’s run a 4.46- sec­ond 40- yard dash this sum­mer, then over­turned a two- man tack­ling sled at prac­tice along with team­mate Ger­ald Dixon Jr.

With each ex­ploit the frenzy grows. To pro­tect his star, Spurrier has closed sum­mer work­outs — even scrim­mages where gen­er­ally sev­eral thou­sand turn out at Wil­liams- Brice Sta­dium to watch. Spurrier said the crowd of au­to­graph seek­ers at­tend­ing prac­tice clam­our for Clowney.

“Poor Jade­veon can’t hardly get out on the field with­out get­ting some­body mad at him,” Spurrier said.

Clowney was the SEC’s fresh­man of the year, notch­ing eight sacks and show­ing his abil­ity to make the game- chang­ing plays. He took his game up sev­eral rungs last sea­son, fin­ish­ing with 13 sacks to earn SEC de­fen­sive player of the year.

One more num­ber: That hit on Smith has drawn more than 1.8 mil­lion views on YouTube.

“I like to pick at quar­ter­backs. That’s what I do,” Clowney said. “If they can’t han­dle the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Clowney ex­pects to turn the heat up this fall and can’t wait for his fi­nal sea­son to start against North Carolina.

— The As­so­ci­ated Press

GERRY ME­LEN­DEZ / THE STATE / MCT AR­CHIVES

South Carolina’s Jade­veon Clowney is right at home in front of the mikes.

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