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July 21, 2011

Clowney the next Julius Peppers?



HOOVER, Ala. -- South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier hopes highly touted defensive end signee Jadeveon Clowney performs like a current NFL defensive end that once played for the professional team just down the road from the freshman's home in Rock Hill, S.C.

"I'm hoping he's the next Julius Peppers," Spurrier told a group of TV journalists Wednesday at SEC Football Media Days. "He's an outside rusher who can occasionally come up the middle. He's a speed guy that loves playing."

Peppers has 89 sacks in nine NFL seasons, including 10 or more sacks in six seasons. He played for the home state Carolina Panthers from 2002-2009 following a brilliant college career at North Carolina, where he won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player and the Lombardi Award as the best collegiate lineman in 2001. He is currently ranked second all-time in UNC history with 30.5 sacks. He was the second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Panthers.

USC intends to quickly take advantage of the 6-foot-6 Clowney's supreme pass-rushing skills.

"Obviously, we're going to play him because he's a big guy who can chase the ball extremely well, rush the passer and make tackles all over the field," Spurrier said. "How good can he be? Time will tell. He's certainly going to get an opportunity. He's certainly going to play early and often."

Right now, USC has Clowney penciled in at the defensive end along with fifth-year senior Melvin Ingram opposite Devin Taylor.

"We're really interested in watching him play this year," Spurrier said. "We'll be out there early and often, and we think he's going to be a super player and a real good guy for us. We're hoping with Devin coming on one end, Jadeveon coming up the other end or somewhere, we're going to have a good pass-rush."

Spurrier admonished an out-of-state reporter who asked him if he thought USC had any freshmen who could contribute this season

"Have you ever heard of Jadeveon Clowney?" Spurrier wondered. "Yeah, Clowney will play. He'll be out there as some kind of defensive end, some kind of outside linebacker. He'll be standing around when the ball is snapped, but he'll be chasing it wherever it goes.'

The significance of signing Clowney to a letter of intent is not lost on Spurrier because it was the first time a school that had never won a national championship had managed to convince the nation's No. 1 recruit to play for them.

"It was a big boost to get a guy like Jadeveon Clowney because it sends a message that we can win. Hopefully we can." Spurrier said. "Usually those No. 1 guys go to Alabama, Southern Cal, Ohio State, Florida, somewhere like that. We were able to get a No. 1 guy. He could have gone anywhere in the nation. That's encouraging for all of us at South Carolina. He said I've got confidence that my home state university can win big. That's what he wants to do. We've been able to recruit most of the top players in our state."

Fifth-year senior Travian Robertson has been designated by defensive line coach Brad Lawing to help Clowney adjust to major college football and learn USC's scheme during summer workouts. Robertson said he's been impressed so far by Clowney's attitude and skills

"He's a great guy. He's fitting in well," Robertson said. "He's been there for a few weeks. He's young and we have a lot of work to do. But I think he's going to play a good part on our defense this year. He's got a lot of speed. We just have to figure out where we're going to put him."

TWITTER BAN?: Social media like Twitter and Facebook have presented fresh challenges for football coaches. For Gamecock fans who use Twitter, they know numerous USC football players like to post their thoughts on Twitter. However, that could be coming to an end as Spurrier told a group of journalists he is considering banning his players from posting on Twitter.

"I know a lot of coaches have banned their players from using Twitter and we're about ready to do that because we have some immature kids that put some stuff on there that shouldn't be on there," Spurrier said. "But that's part of living in our society today. You just have to handle it the right way."

LATTIMORE CARRIES USC: Until the Georgia game last season, Spurrier considered Marcus Lattimore just another extremely talented young running back. But after watching him carve up the Georgia defense in the second week of the season with 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries, Spurrier realized he had something special in the Byrnes High product.

"We knew we had a good player in Marcus and we knew he would have a chance to become our starting tailback," Spurrier said. "But we didn't know he could do some of the things that he did until the Georgia game. We gave him the ball and he bounced off about two or three tacklers to make 10 or 12 yards.

"Then he bounced off two or three tacklers to make 8. I said, 'Man, they're having trouble tackling him.' After that game, we realized he could carry the team and he was a special player. He did it in a lot of games. He's an outstanding runner with the ball and pass receiver coming out of the backfield."

Who would Spurrier best compare Lattimore to out of all the running backs he's coached in his quarter century as a Division I head coach.

"That's a good question," Spurrier said. "I know I've never had a back who could break more tackles than he does. After the Georgia game, Jay Graham told me Marcus broke 42 tackles on 37 carries. It was an amazing day and then it continued throughout the season. I know Georgia is going to have a bunch of guys waiting to tackle him this year. He just has a knack of shedding tacklers as good as anybody I've ever been around. His speed is good. He's not a 4.3 or 4.4 guy, but coming out of the backfield he's very good. He has some little wiggles like a wide receiver. He reminds me a little of Marshall Faulk, but he's a little heavier than Marshall was."

Not satisfied with his rookie campaign despite rushing for 1,197 yards, catching 29 passes and earning All-SEC recognition, Lattimore has worked hard throughout the offseason to become bigger, stronger and faster. In fact, he was one of three players honored at the spring game for their efforts in the weight room. He now weighs roughly 227 pounds.

"Last season was amazing," Lattimore said. "My decision to come to South Carolina was because I just felt at home every time I went there. I took Coach's word. Coach Spurrier told me, 'You're going to run the ball' and that's what we did. We brought the SEC Eastern Division Championship to Columbia, which hasn't happened in a long time. We're planning on doing more this year."

STARKVILLE SHOWDOWN?: USC will face a crucial test on Oct. 15 when the Gamecocks open the second half of their 2011 schedule by traveling to Starkville to face a rejuvenated Mississippi State team under third-year head coach Dan Mullen. In fact, based on how the first half goes, it could be a huge game for both teams. Prior to USC's 15-0 shutout win over MSU on a Thursday night in 2006, Spurrier had been winless at Davis-Wade Stadium in two previous attempts.

"When I was coaching at Florida we lost both times out there," Spurrier said. "We beat them about three or four years ago when their quarterback got hurt. We know how difficult a place that is. Dan Mullen has really assembled a good bunch of players. They know how to play. They don't beat themselves. They're a good team. They're ready to make a challenge over there in the West this year. We know it will be difficult."

SHARE THE WEALTH, THE SEQUEL: Spurrier elaborated on his statement at the SEC's spring meetings in Destin, Fla., proposing that major college football players receive a small stipend on a weekly basis during the season to help pay for expenses. Those comments sparked a national debate on whether college athletes should be paid.

"I know I'm not going to change the NCAA or how we do anything," Spurrier said. "My opinion is that college football and basketball players should share a little bit more in the enormous amount of money that comes to our universities. The basketball and the football coaches make millions and millions. The other sports like softball and volleyball, they don't make a lot of money. But the two big sports pay for all the other sports. If there's a way to give our guys a little bit more spending money, that's what I was certainly for."

Seven SEC football coaches signed Spurrier's proposal in Destin. He noted the average salary of SEC head football coaches is about $3 million.

"The coaches make all the money, the conferences, the NCAA, everybody is making a ton of money except for the performers," Spurrier said. "There should be a way for the football and basketball players to share in it a little bit more considering the enormous amount of money they're generating for everyone."

MISCELLANEOUS:

-- USC announced Wednesday the Nov. 19 home game against The Citadel will kick off at noon with the contest available on pay-per-view throughout the Palmetto State.

-- Right now, seven games have been set for USC's 2012 schedule: Aug. 30 (Thur.) v. East Carolina, Sept. 8 v. Georgia, Sept. 15 v. UAB, Oct. 6 at Kentucky, Nov. 10 at Florida, Nov. 17 v. Wofford, Nov. 24 at Clemson.

-- USC will enter the 2011 season with an all-time record of 543-541-44. It will be the school's 20th season of competition in the SEC.

-- Spurrier said he's looking for USC's third down defense to be much improved in 2011. Opponents converted 40 percent (80-of-198) of their third down chances last season.

-- USC has won seven or more games in three straight seasons (2008-10) for the first time in school history. The current stretch of seven straight non-losing seasons matches the longest in school history (1928-34).

-- Spurrier pointed to the improved football facilities as one reason for USC's ability to recruit better players. "Five or six years ago, there's no way Jadeveon Clowney would have gone to South Carolina," Spurrier said. "We just weren't a big time player. But with everything in place there, he thinks we can win big there."

-- Spurrier praised John Butler as a special teams coach "who is really going to help us."

-- Spurrier said redshirt freshman DB Victor Hampton continues to work out with the team during summer conditioning.

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