CHARLOTTE, N.C. | It was supposed to be the day the South Carolina football program celebrated one of the greatest signing classes in school history.
But just as coach Steve Spurrier and recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer sat down to address their success, USC’s top target made it clear he isn’t a lock to end up in Columbia after all.
All signs were beginning to point to South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, choosing the Gamecocks over Alabama when he makes his choice Feb. 14, his birthday. However, it appears Clemson has become a contender after signing a class that included four five-star recruits.
“I took a visit to Clemson, and I actually enjoyed it,” he said in an appearance on ESPNU. “They are back in the mix a lot. They’re one of the top schools I’m thinking about ... them, South Carolina, Alabama.”
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Clowney seems undecided — saying that he could see himself playing at any of the three schools — and wants 10 days without distractions to make the biggest decision of his life.
Clowney, also struck by the recruiting success of Florida State, is considering taking a visit to Tallahassee this weekend. The Seminoles have had an on-again, off-again role in his recruitment, but if Clowney takes another visit, he said it will be to FSU.
That means LSU and North Carolina are out of the running for an official visit, because Clowney said he won’t take any more trips after this weekend.
It would be a big upset if the Tigers landed Clowney, but they’ve pulled similar feats before. Two years after Clemson landed the nation’s fourth-ranked quarterback, Tajh Boyd, in a late surprise, the Tigers on Wednesday secured the services of the nation’s top-ranked inside and outside linebackers, Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony.
That appealed to Clowney, who visited Clemson last weekend.
“It makes me want to go there, too,” he said. “It let’s me know I’ve got people on my team that want to win like me.”
All along, it appeared the Gamecocks had the trump card over Alabama and other contenders in the Clowney sweepstakes. Former South Pointe teammates Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman are on the USC roster, and those relationships often loom large in recruiting.
“They are close to home,” Clowney said of the Gamecocks. “I’d have some former teammates to play with. I like them a lot.”
But Clemson may have a $30 million-plus trump card. Clowney said Wednesday he wants to play three years of college football and leave for the NFL.
Former Clemson standout Da’Quan Bowers is projected as a top-five pick in this year’s NFL draft and would be in line to earn more than $30 million in guaranteed money unless there are significant changes to the league’s unresolved collective bargaining agreement. That resonates with Clowney.
“He went in No. 1 and came out No. 1,” Clowney said. “That left a big impact on me. I see him doing it, and I can go do it, too. That’s why they (the Tigers) jumped up there, and they just got the two linebackers.”
Clowney also has personal ties on the Clemson roster. He developed a relationship with Anthony during the Shrine Bowl and Under Armour All-America Game. He’s also friends with Marlboro County linebacker Lateek Townsend, a teammate in the Shrine Bowl. Clowney said those relationships are going to play a role in his decision.
No matter who ends up winning his services, ESPN’s analysts all believe Clowney has the potential to become a star.
Scouts Inc. national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said it’s difficult to analyze a player of Clowney’s stature because you purposely look for flaws when sometimes there aren’t any.
“Your natural tendency when you’re evaluating him you want to scrutinize and find out what the red flags are,” he said. “What is the weakness? What is the problem here? It’s not motor. It’s not a willingness and a passion for the game. If there is an area — and I don’t think there are any perfect players — he could struggle at the next level is he’ll have to line up over a tight end. He’s going to get isolated and run right at (by opponents) to get the quickness and explosiveness off the edge neutralized a little bit. That will be an adjustment for Clowney.”
Still, Luginbill expects him to have a great college career. He’s just as intrigued to find out where it will happen as everyone else.
Clowney said he wants to make a decision a few days before Feb. 14, though this tight race could go down to the end.
“My parents are more nervous than me,” said Clowney, flashing the charisma that has made him a likeable figure in the media. “My mom is nervous, but I’m not nervous. Everybody around school is nervous. I’m the only one that’s not nervous.”