May 10, 2014

Commentary: Clowney last of 'The Run' of top instate talent

Jadeveon Clowney’s professional career began on Thursday night, and with it, an era ended for South Carolina.

Jadeveon Clowney’s professional career began on Thursday night, and with it, an era ended for South Carolina.

The Gamecocks run the last four seasons – an SEC East title followed by three consecutive 11-win seasons – has been built on nothing as much as an elite run of talent in its state’s borders. From 2009 to 2012, South Carolina recruited homegrown talents Stephon Gilmore, Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore and then Clowney.

Clowney was the greatest by the standards of the NFL. We know this, of course, because he was picked No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. It’s what most Gamecock fans, not to mention NFL executives, have expected since Clowney was a freshman at South Carolina.

For three days here in the leadup to the draft, it seemed at times like Clowney wasn’t the only person reasonable sure it was going to happen. That was written on his face when he walked onto the Radio City Music Hall after his pick.

South Carolina fans have often seen Clowney with a big smile the last three seasons. They’ve sometimes seen him with a furrowed brow and occasionally a cross look. They had never seen him with tears until Thursday, when the emotion of the moment finally hit him on that stage.

Clowney gave NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell an extra long squeeze to give himself a little time to compose himself, but it seemed clear he was on the verge of breaking down.

As Clowney made his way through an out-of-the-way tunnel on his way to his first news conference as a Texan, an employee at the building stopped him and asked for a picture. As he obliged, she said, “Yeah, you cried, and it was so cute.” Clowney’s 6-foot-6, 276 pounds, but she’s right, it was kind of cute, and it seemed very appropriate after the three-plus years of expectations he carried into the moment.

Now, as you tip your cap toward Houston and wish Clowney well, take a moment to remember The Run because not only was Clowney the best of the bunch, he was the last. Not many states, particularly not many states of five million people, have a four-year period in which they produce that kind of talent very often.

(And you can easily add Bruce Ellington to the list if you like. After initially giving up football, he was selected in the fourth round of the draft.)

Now that doesn’t mean South Carolina’s success on the field need be finished. What it means is that the Gamecocks have to take the momentum built on the backs of those players and carry it forward in a different fashion.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that four-star recruit Lorenzo Nunez, the top-rated quarterback in the state of Georgia, verbally committed to the Gamecocks hours before Clowney was selected by the Texans. South Carolina certainly hopes not.

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