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February 13, 2011

Clowney drama comes to close on Monday

MORE: Clowney speaks | Live chat

Jadeveon Clowney, a dominant defensive end and the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, is expected to make an immediate impact in college. Should he do that, the man who coached him at Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe High would not be the least bit surprised.

"He started on the ninth grade team as a freshman and already was 6-foot-3, 200 pounds," recalled former South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll. "He scored 36 touchdowns."

Now a senior, Clowney is perhaps the most coveted high school player in recent memory. At 10:15 a.m. Monday inside the South Pointe auditorium, the bigger-than-life, 6-foot-6, 247-pound Clowney will end his intense, exhausting and closely watched recruitment by signing with Alabama, Clemson or South Carolina.

While Clowney maintained as recently as last week his three top schools were even, Carroll and others suggest his proximity to Clemson and South Carolina give those two programs a significant edge. Rock Hill is 68 miles from Columbia and 124 to Clemson. But Clowney, who is said to be extremely close with his family, lives more than 400 miles from Tuscaloosa.

The Gamecocks have long been considered the program to beat. Clemson, though, apparently made a significant push down the stretch, and Clowney surprised many when he announced during a National Signing Day interview on ESPNU that the Tigers were very much in the picture. Nonetheless, Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell predicts the Gamecocks will claim the prize.

"There is no suspense to me," Farrell said. "I'd be stunned if he went any place but South Carolina."

A Clowney signing would give what already is considered the best Clemson recruiting class most can recall a fifth five-star recruit. But his signature would be equally big for South Carolina, which in 2010 won its first SEC East title, something skeptics thought might never be accomplished. The tug-of-war for Clowney might be the biggest story in Palmetto State sports this year.

"Having (South Carolina) and Clemson being the final two teams for the No. 1 player in the country - for the state of South Carolina, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event," said GamecockCentral.com senior writer Scott Hood.

Why all the fuss over Clowney?

"He's as special at his position as anyone I've ever seen," Farrell said. "I've seen Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. I've seen Adrian Peterson at running back. I've seen Percy Harvin and Kyle Prater at wide receiver, and on and on it goes. But I've never seen a defensive end in the 10 years I've been doing this as dominant off the football as this kid is. He knows the snap count on every play it seems like. I've never seen anyone get off the ball quicker. That's what makes him different, and then you throw in all the intangibles, his size, motor, pursuit and athleticism.

"Clowney will run down a play 30 yards downfield, and he has incredible backside pursuit. He just never gives up. That's rare."

Clowney's rise to prominence began in 2008, when he joined the varsity during spring practice.

"He started as a sophomore in 2008," Carroll said. "He started all 15 games for a team that went 15-0 and he played with some extremely talented guys. When everyone in the world sat back, though, was in the spring that year. He absolutely wreaked havoc in practice every day.

"And we had a ton of (college) coaches at practice."

From there, Clowney only improved.

Here are some numbers of note:

He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds.

He recorded 19.5 sacks as a senior.

He totaled 144 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 23 sacks, two blocked kicks and 29 quarterback pressures in 2009.

He owns a 36-inch vertical leap.

He power cleans 325 pounds.

In 49 varsity games at South Pointe, he won 43 times.

"He's the total package," Carroll said. "I've never seen anybody like him. He's double- and triple-teamed every play. I haven't seen any high school kids block him. I've coached five NFL guys and a bunch of guys who could have made it to the NFL but it didn't work out. But I don't think anybody has been like Clowney. He plays extremely hard and has the most instinctively competitive spirit of any kid I've seen."

While some have suggested that by waiting until Feb. 14 - his 18th birthday - to make his selection, Clowney has done so simply to bring on more attention to himself. Carroll insisted that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, he maintains the low-key Clowney doesn't have a big ego at all and waited this long primarily because he wanted to make the correct decision.

"Let me tell you, people have really got to sit back Jadeveon didn't put himself on this pedestal, we did - the media and college coaches did," Carroll said. "Never has Jadeveon Clowney beat his chest and said, 'Hey, I'm the No. 1 football recruit in the country.' The media created it. There's nothing wrong with it; it's part of the times. But while Jadeveon Clowney might be a tremendous athlete, he has a giant body with a 17-year-old little guy in there who's fixing to turn 18 on Monday. He still thinks and acts and sees things like a 17-year-old kid does."

Carroll described Clowney as being a personable, fun kid.

"You never see him in a bad mood," Carroll said. "At the school, they love him, man. They love him."

A letter of intent from Clowney would mean different things to each of his finalists.

At Clemson, which Clowney visited Jan. 28, the Tigers have pitched to Clowney that he could be the program's next Da'Quan Bowers, a standout defensive end who possibly could go first overall in this year's NFL draft. According to Clowney, Clemson defensive ends coach Marion Hobby told him he potentially could become even better than Bowers.

The biggest Clemson selling point, however, apparently has been Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney. In a recent interview with TigerIllustrated.com, Clowney said his mother "thinks (Swinney) would coach me the best out of all of them."

If Clowney were to pick Clemson, "it would be an earthquake in Columbia," Hood joked.

For South Carolina, getting Clowney's signature is huge for multiple reasons. For starters, he has the ability to challenge for a starting spot immediately. Equally important, however, might simply be what landing Clowney would do for the program's national perception.

"I've covered the team since Day One of the Steve Spurrier era," Hood said. "I've been here since 2005. (ESPN personality) Lee Corso predicted USC would never win the (SEC) East. He said South Carolina could not recruit top players consistently year to year to compete with the Floridas and Georgias. In my opinion, if they get Clowney, that would obliterate that."

The fact two former South Pointe players - cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety DeVonte Holloman - are on the South Carolina roster has helped, according to Farrell.

"There's a connection," Farrell said. "Last year, with (five-star running back) Marcus Lattimore , there was a family connection because his sister went to South Carolina. This year, Clowney has two former teammates on the Gamecocks' roster. I think that's one of the main connections to South Carolina. He knows them. He trusts them. And there is that comfort level. Plus, this kid does not want to go away from home.

"This one parallels Lattimore from last year. He was the top running back in the country. He took visits, flirted with other schools and said they were all even. But from the spring until the time he signed, everyone knew he was going to South Carolina. I think the Clowney situation is the same."

On Friday night, Clowney confirmed to GamecockCentral.com his decision was made. In the same interview, he said he was upset over a New York Times article that claimed he may have trouble qualifying. He called the story "untrue."

On Monday morning at South Pointe, when Clowney will make his intentions known to the public, the recruitment of the country's top prospect will at long last come to a close. And with it, someone will add the type of player to its roster that doesn't come along very often.

"I think there has been more attention paid to this one than previous ones that have gone past signing day," Farrell said. "Even people I've talked to who have no idea about high school recruiting know the name Jadeveon Clowney."



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