As a high school freshman, Clowney scored 36 touchdowns as a running back. He also played defensive end, where he would wreak havoc on opposing offenses for the remainder of his high school career at South Pointe. It is well documented that Jadeveon was so dominant in practices, the team was unable to execute their offense.
Due to his disruptiveness, coaches were occasionally forced to pull him from practice. Clowney would finish his senior season in high school with 162 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. He also rushed for 277 yards on 32 carries and nine touchdowns. The five-star recruit and consensus No. 1 player in the nation subsequently committed to the University of South Carolina.
In 2011, the highly touted 6’6” 250 lbs. freshman made an immediate impact, as he was named SEC Freshman of the Year, registering 36 tackles and eight sacks. As a sophomore, he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and capped off the season with a strong performance in the Outback Bowl. The iconic image of Clowney striking Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the backfield, now known as “the hit” perfectly encapsulated Clowney’s career. However, there was just one small problem; another year remained.
Since collegiate football players must be three years removed from high school to become eligible for the NFL, Clowney had to return to Columbia and finish his junior year. When asked if he would have entered the draft following his sophomore season, if he could’ve, Clowney responded, “ Yes, I would’ve come out, but it’s over with now. I had to do what I had to do, take care of my business with my team and help them.” Setting the single-season record for sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23.5), it is difficult to argue that Clowney wasn’t ready for the NFL after just two seasons in college.
Entering his junior year, much was expected of the star defensive end. Selected as a pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate, opposing offensive coordinators constructed their game plan to minimize his impact. The Gamecock defense consistently saw quick passes as a result of his Clowney’s speed to the quarterback. He later stated, “I saw a lot of two-on-one blocks and plays going to the opposite side.”
Week after week, Jadeveon seemed to be schemed out of the game by opposing offensive coordinators, resulting in a disinterested appearance on the field at times. Subsequently, his work ethic was called into question and scrutinized by many, including his head coach, Steve Spurrier, who was unhappy when Jadeveon chose to sit out against Kentucky. Following the game, a clearly agitated Spurrier said, “If (Clowney) wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team, if he wants. But if he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play. Simple as that.” When asked about Jadeveon’s commitment to the team, Spurrier did not give him a ringing endorsement, saying, “ You’ll have to ask him that.” Earlier this month, the South Carolina head coach was asked once again to comment on his star pupil’s work ethic. Spurrier responded, “It wasn’t like Marcus Lattimore, you know, every player is a little different. Work habits are pretty good, they’re not quite like Lattimore, a Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, some of those guys, but when the ball is snapped, he’s got something no one else has.”
At the 2014 NFL Combine, Clowney was asked to repond to Spurrier’s comments. Clowney told reporters, “I don’t have anything to say about it. I feel like I work hard, I’m always going to be working hard no matter where I end up.” Rumored to run in the 4.45 range in the 40-yard dash, he has the type of athleticism rarely seen in a 6’6” 274 Lb. defensive end. With the ability to line up as a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the dirt, Clowney is scheme-versatile with tremendous natural ability. Even though there are work ethic concerns, he is likely to be taken within the top three picks in the draft.
Responding to questions about whether or not his work ethic would decline once he gets his first NFL check, he said, “Once I get to the NFL, my career is going to go up. I just want to be the best, one of the greatest of all time. Coming of high school, I said I wanted to be one of the best in college. I think I proved that and now I want to be one of the best in the NFL and hopefully I can accomplish that.” Clowney certainly has the ability to become an NFL great, and clearly NFL decision-makers feel the same way. If he can continue to convince NFL personnel that he’s willing to put in the work necessary to maximize his ability, Jadeveon Clowney will likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
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