September 18, 2013

USC's Jadeveon Clowney: The perfect football machine

A combination of quick twitch muscle mastery and good wiring is the engine behind the initial speed that makes Jadeveon Clowney so dangerous.

The following is the cover story from the fall issue of GoGamecocks The Magazine.

In 1985, eight years before Jadeveon Clowney was born, the world got a glimpse of the future.

It came in the blockbuster movie “Rocky IV" when the movie’s antagonist, russian boxer ivan drago, was being introduced to the world.

“A normal heavyweight averages 700 pounds of pressure per square inch,” says character Nicoli Koloff before 6-foot-5, 250-pound actor Dolph Lundgren punches a machine that will measure his power. “As you can see, Drago averages 1,850 pounds so the result is quite obvious,” Koloff continues. “Whatever he hits ...”

“He destroys,” says South Carolina strength and conditioning coach Joe Connolly, finishing the line from the movie.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013, and the Gamecocks have 24 TENDO analyzers attached to the training machines in their locker room. The TENDO — like Lundgren an import from Sweden — measures not just how much weight an athlete can lift or how high he can jump but how much power he creates while doing it.

“Velocity accountability” it is called in the business, and Clowney is setting the standard in the college football world.

“That means how fast is the bar moving, not just how heavy is the bar,” said Bert Sorin, the vice president of Sorinex Exercise Equipment and a former South Carolina hammer thrower, who has helped introduce the machine to the North American market. “It’s like finally using a stopwatch instead of saying, ‘Wow, that guy beat that guy in a race.’ It’s basically the stopwatch of the barbell world.”

The TENDO measures power in watts, and Clowney produces between 6,500 and 8,000 watts on his vertical jump, Connolly said. That factors in not only how high Clowney jumps but how fast he jumps and how much he weighs to provide a more accurate measurement of exactly how much force Clowney produces when he, for example, runs over an opponent.

“When he hits you, it’s a whole different animal,” said Sorin, who supplied South Carolina’s TENDO equipment.

Seven hundred and forty-five watts equals one horsepower, Sorin said, so Clowney’s 8,000 watts on his vertical jump produces more than 10 horsepower of force.

“Which is impressive for a human,” Sorin said. “From what I have seen, (Clowney) is almost the perfect football machine. He has the power output. He has the speed output. He has the long arms. He doesn’t have much body fat, but he has enough body fat so he has some cushioning to take those shots.”

The only other person Sorin knows of who has produced numbers close to Clowney’s on the TENDO is San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Sorin said.

Clowney is aware of his TENDO prowess if not familiar with all the technology of the machine.

“If they hook it up, I am trying to jack it to where they want it to be,” he said.

“In the industry, we say he is wired for sound,” Sorin said. “When you turn the juice on, it goes right in the engine real fast. He’s wired to produce a tremendous amount of power very fast. It’s about the central nervous system’s ability to turn on and off different muscle groups at a high rate of speed at will. Your nervous system knows how to actuate high percentage of your muscle fibers when required.

“These are the guys that can do head fakes and jukes, and it just doesn’t make sense. It looks like it is so easy for them. They can turn on a dime. That’s not only from their central nervous system being hotwired but they also have master-like control of their body.”

It’s this combination of quick twitch muscle mastery and good wiring that is the engine behind the initial speed that makes Clowney so dangerous. It’s the technical explanation behind what college football coaches call “get off” and for how Clowney was able to close the gap so quickly between himself and Michigan running back Vincent Smith on Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl.

“His quickness and strength is pretty unparalleled to anything else you will see,” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said. “You see a lot of talented guys, first round guys, but he’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player.”

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw calls Clowney’s movements “unpredictable,” a layman’s way to express how mystifying it is to see a person that large start, turn and start again at such a dizzying rate.

“The first movement is so fast and he’s so big, it’s just amazing,” Gamecocks wide receiver Bruce Ellington said.

Clowney was unaware of how unique his gift is until he got to South Carolina, he said.

“Melvin Ingram, when I got here, he said, ‘You’ve got a first step that’s going to get you a long way,’” Clowney said. “My first step gets me where I need to be.”

Clowney is getting faster over 40 yards, too. He confirmed he ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash in mid-July, saying he promised roommate Chaz Sutton the night before that his time would be lower than 4.5 seconds.

"He said, 'You’re lying.’ I said, 'Watch me,’" Clowney said.

His combination of power and speed is likely to make him the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. In July, NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah ranked Clowney the top player in college football.

“He’s a one-in-a-couple-million athlete. Just period,” Sorin said. “That’s how God decided to make him. His potential can be made more efficient through weightlifting and coaching, but he’s in a realm that a lot of athletes no matter how much training they do couldn’t get to.”

Rotoworld.com NFL Draft writer Josh Norris says Clowney’s wingspan, which is 7-feet, 4-inches – more than an average 6-foot-7 NBA player, helps make him a unique athlete.

"That wingspan,” Norris said. “He engulfs everything in front of him. He is a one-of-a-kind player. I think the (NFL comparison) that stands out is Jason Pierre-Paul just because of that tarantula-type wingspan. It seems like he has eight arms. He’s always doing something, and you can’t stop him. I think he could have a JPP-type impact. As long as he stays healthy, I think a No. 1 pick is definitely in his sight."

USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward says that Clowney’s skill set makes him unblockable when he decides he does not want to be blocked.

Ward compares Clowney to the late Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas, who holds the SEC career record with 52 sacks.

Ward played with Thomas, who set the NCAA single-season record in 1988 with 27 sacks.

"They were very, very similar," Ward told ESPN.com. "Derrick was a track guy in high school who could run 4.5. Jadeveon is bigger and thicker than Derrick was when he was in college. They're both freakish athletes, but I've seen Jadeveon do some things that I didn't even see Derrick Thomas do."

The Gamecocks designed Clowney’s offseason workout program to focus more on core strength and injury prevention than on adding strength or speed, Connolly said.

“That’s our biggest concern with him,” Connolly said. “How strong does he need to be? Yeah, everybody needs to be stronger, but you get to a certain point and it’s, ‘OK, let’s maintain this strength and make sure this guy is bullet proof.’ ”

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