Hold on to your helmets, Clowney may sack Heisman
In one play, Jadeveon Clowney went from star on the rise to superstar on the Heisman watch list.
The South Carolina defensive end, who was already having an All-American season, said he was ticked off at the beginning of a Michigan drive in the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. A measurement call by the officials — it can only be described as historically bad — robbed the Gamecocks of a first down.
With his team trailing Michigan 22-21, Clowney said he knew it was time for a big play. He just had no idea what the next snap would do for his image.
As Michigan running back Vincent Smith took the handoff, Clowney parted the Wolverines’ offensive line like the Red Sea, launched himself at full speed into Smith and violently dislodged Smith’s helmet from his head.
As the helmet flew back five yards, the ball also came loose and Clowney snagged it with his left hand while lying on top of Smith.
“The Hit” and fumble recovery changed the game’s momentum, leading to a Gamecock touchdown and eventual victory, giving South Carolina its second consecutive 11-win season.
“We needed a big play and he came through,” linebacker Kaiwan Lewis said.
It was also the perfect springboard for 2013.
Clowney enters this year as the nation’s top defensive player, setting himself up for a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman Trophy.
College football’s top honor has gone to only one primarily defensive player — Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson. But Woodson boosted his resume by playing some offense and being a dynamic punt returner.
Clowney said there’s no way he’ll be lining up on the other side of the ball this year just to increase his Heisman potential.
“It’s kind of strange, but (offense is) what the people like, touchdowns and more touchdowns,” said Clowney, who has 21 career sacks and eight forced fumbles. “They don’t worry about the sacks and stuff, so they feel like offense is more an individual side, I guess.”
Clowney earned Freshman All-America honors in 2011, but his superstar status took off in 2012 when he recorded 54 tackles (40 solo), 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss. The latter two are single-season school records.
Clowney became the first sophomore to win the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s top defensive end, and he was a finalist for other awards while earning unanimous All-America honors.
The game with “The Hit” wasn’t the only one Clowney changed last season.
“One of the biggest sacks I made was against Tennessee,” Clowney said. “They were driving down the field to beat us and I came around and (made) a sack and fumble. All my sacks against Georgia were pretty good.”
Against Clemson, South Carolina’s bitter in-state rival, Clowney had his single greatest performance. He sacked All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd 4.5 times, helping secure South Carolina’s fourth consecutive victory in the rivalry.
His size and incredible speed made Clowney one of the most ballyhooed high school recruits in the past 20 years, so the attention surrounding the 6-6, 272-pound junior has always been intense.
But the intensity is turned up a notch leading into this season as he’s on the cover of multiple magazines and participating in exclusive interviews with ESPN. Media flock to him every time he talks and he can’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
There was even a national story suggesting that he should sit out this season to avoid injury, thereby guaranteeing him a high draft spot in 2014. College football players aren’t eligible for the draft until three years after their graduation from high school.
Clowney dismissed the notion and said he found out from teammates that it had become a national topic, proving how little he pays attention to his own press.
“I’m just really going to deal with it and keep playing like I’ve been playing, 100 percent,” said Clowney, “Just try to go out there and do better than I did last year.”
He added to his own lore when he confirmed reports that he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds in the offseason. He’s also added 13 pounds since the end of last season and has worked on avoiding run blocking and understanding the playbook to become “the total package.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who’s won a Heisman himself and has coached another recipient, is helping his star player handle the attention.
“Hopefully, he will continue to sort of stay in the background, staying out of sight of a lot of stuff that goes on,” Spurrier said. “He knows that and he’s done a pretty good job of it.”
“My goals are set very high,” said Clowney, who needs nine sacks to become the school’s all-time career sack leader. “I want to make more tackles for a loss and not necessarily win the Heisman, but if it’s there, it’s there.”
|DE||Jadeveon Clowney||6-6||272||Jr.||South Carolina|
|DE||Stephon Tuitt||6-6||303||Jr.||Notre Dame|
|DT||Will Sutton||6-1||288||Sr.||Arizona State|
|DT||Louis Nix||6-3||326||Sr.||Notre Dame|
|LB||Kyle Van Noy||6-3||235||Sr.||BYU|
|DB||Bradley Roby||5-11||193||Jr.||Ohio State|
|DB||Lamarcus Joyner||5-8||195||Sr.||Florida State|
|LB||Ryan Shazier||6-2||222||Jr.||Ohio State|
|DB||Ty Zimmerman||6-1||204||Jr.||Kansas State|