If Jadeveon Clowney hopes to be in position to be the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL draft this time next year, there is one critical thing he must do during the 2013 football season.
“It’s pretty simple. It’s just two words. It’s just ‘stay healthy’ ” Rotoworld.com NFL draft writer Josh Norris said. “That is literally it. He doesn’t need to show more skills. He just needs to stay healthy.”
South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing will hate that answer. It’s Lawing’s job to fine tune everything about Clowney’s game, something Clowney himself has promised to do, but the plain truth is this — there’s almost nothing Clowney could do short of injury to erase the memory of what he already has proven.
The 6-foot-6, 256-pound sophomore set South Carolina’s single-season sack record with 13 during the regular season, and he has one game to go — the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Michigan. He spent last week on a barnstorming tour of the country along with the other top defenders in the nation, traveling to Charlotte, Houston and finally Orlando to be feted and fawned over during a string of awards ceremonies.
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Even Clowney’s competition for the nation’s top defensive honors marveled at his gifts.
“There’s no ceiling for him,” Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “He had a great year this year. Next year, he better blow everything off the charts. I am looking for him to put up some big numbers.”
“He’s a beast,” said Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner, like Jones an upperclassman marveling at this hulking child prodigy. “I love watching him because he’s so explosive. He’s only a sophomore. That’s what makes it scary.”
Clowney won the Hendricks Award, which is given to the nation’s best defensive end, but lost out on defensive player of the year awards such as the Nagurski Trophy (which he vowed to win next year) and the Bednarik Award to Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o. Also last week, Clowney was named unanimous first-team All-SEC by the media and coaches, a Walter Camp first-team All-American and the SEC defensive player of the year by the league’s coaches.
“I am pretty happy about it,” Clowney said of all the attention he received last week. “I worked for it. It comes with the effort.”
It also comes with a fringe benefit for South Carolina — national publicity like it hasn’t had since George Rogers won the Heisman Trophy. Several members of the school’s administration, including athletics director Ray Tanner, traveled to Charlotte for the presentation of the Nagurski Trophy and watched as South Carolina’s logo was displayed on equal footing with more established brands such as Notre Dame, Georgia and Florida State.
“When you think about the University of South Carolina, you think about Jadeveon Clowney, too,” Tanner said. The athletics department is “just a part of the university, but our presence across the country is a big deal, and Jadeveon has enhanced that in a very big way.”
A big way is how Clowney plans to leave USC. Next season will be his last with the Gamecocks, he told The State last week, and that’s no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. He had 50 tackles, including 21.5 for loss (another single-season school record) during the regular season, and that came while missing one game and being slowed in several others due to a foot injury.
Clowney’s plans to break this year’s sack record next season and wants to leave as the school’s career leader, he said. That seems little more than a formality. He has 21 sacks through 23 career games. Eric Norwood set the school’s career record of 29 in 51 career games from 2006-2009.
“I can get as many as I can go after,” Clowney said.
The NCAA record for sacks in a season is 27, set by Alabama’s Derrick Thomas in 1988, and, while that may be out of reach, Clowney doesn’t think 20 is out of the question.
“That’d be pretty good,” he said. “I’m going for it.”
Regardless of what his stat sheet shows next year, NFL draft boards probably all will have Clowney at the top. Southern Cal wide receiver Marqise Lee and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater are the other two players who look like they could give Clowney some competition for that coveted No. 1 overall draft spot.
“With Clowney, he just has everything you want,” Norris said. “It’s pretty remarkable.”