Jadeveon Clowney will play again for South Carolina, he assured a nervous fan base Tuesday. He just doesn’t know when.
Clowney faced the media Tuesday evening for the first time since holding himself out of South Carolina’s game against Kentucky because of a muscle strain near his rib cage. The incident, and Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier’s comments after the game, set off a firestorm of speculation about Clowney’s future.
“I haven’t played my last game here,” the junior All-American defensive end said. “I will be back on the field. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get back, but I will be back.”
Clowney, who did not practice Tuesday, says he “always” has been fully committed to the Gamecocks.
“Regardless of what people think,” he said. “I didn’t sit out (this season). I could have sat out. I am not looking to sit out. I am not that type of guy. I am here for the team regardless, and I am here to work with the team. When I get back healthy, they know I am going to come there to play and do my job, do what I have to do to take care of business on the field.”
When he will be healthy, Clowney doesn’t know.
“It’s really bothering me when I try to run or do quick moves,” he said. “I can’t run right now. When I start back running, I will be out there.”
Clowney, who also has been slowed by illness and bone spurs this season, is expected to be one of the first selections in next year’s NFL draft, but he insisted Tuesday will play no role in his decision to return to the field for the Gamecocks.
“I take it one day at a time. I am in college. I am playing for this university right now,” he said. “Regardless of what people think, I am still in college. I am going to do that and get ready for the future. I ain’t looking past this. We have Arkansas coming up. That’s what I am (focused) on right now.”
Clowney is going to treatment twice a day, Spurrier said. That treatment includes electrical stimulus and hot and cold packs, Clowney said.
“We’ll know later in the week,” Spurrier said. “He is doing everything he can to get ready to play. When he is ready to play, we’re going to put him out there.”
Clowney has 12 tackles, 15th on the team, and two sacks, which ranks 13th in the SEC, this season.
Spurrier opened his regular Tuesday news conference with a lengthy defense of Clowney, whose character and commitment have been questioned on local and national media outlets since Saturday.
“First of all, let’s talk about Jadeveon just briefly,” Spurrier said. “He was in pain. It was diagnosed later and, obviously, we all handled it poorly.”
The proper protocol would have had Clowney inform the team’s trainer or doctor that he could not play and the trainer or doctor then inform the coaching staff. However, Spurrier didn’t learn Clowney wasn’t playing until Clowney himself told him “right before the game” Saturday, Spurrier said.
“It caused some confusion,” Spurrier said.
It also caused Spurrier some frustration immediately after the game, when he told reporters, “We are not going to worry about that, I can assure you of that. If he wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to, but if he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play.”
On Tuesday, Spurrier attributed his frustration to the poor communication and fully backed his star defensive end.
“If he never plays another snap here, we all should be thankful and appreciative that he came to South Carolina,” Spurrier said. “We’ve won 26 games (the past two years), two 11-2 years, the greatest seasons we’ve had in the history of this school in 120 years, so none of us need to be upset at Jadeveon, none of us.
“I just want to clear the air that Jadeveon — all those No. 7 jerseys and all the money he has made for our school He has been a tremendous, important player. Every Gamecock, including me, the coaches and everybody else, we need to be appreciative that he chose South Carolina. He could have gone anywhere in the country.”
Clowney agreed the communication was poor and accepted a share of the blame.
“I should have handled it different instead of just telling them like that,” he said.
As for the criticism he has received, he shrugged it off.
“That’s people’s opinion,” he said. “I am here with my team every day practicing with my team. People can say what they want to say. They are not here, in our locker room, around the coaching staff with us. I know what is going on with us. I know there is a lot of scrutiny going on, people talking. That’s what people do, talk. This is something they want to talk about. I am just sitting back laughing about it. I know my situation with the team.”
Clowney originally suffered the injury in a Sept. 28 win against UCF, he said. He told the training staff about the injury on Sept. 30, he said.
“They said, ‘You’ll be all right,’” Clowney said.
Clowney aggravated the injury at practice on Oct. 1 and has not practiced since.
“I don’t have a timetable,” he said. “This is an injury we are going to have to wait and see.”
Two of Clowney’s veteran teammates insisted Tuesday that the issue is not a distraction for the team.
“He told the trainer he is hurt,” wide receiver Bruce Ellington said. “He says he can’t play, so he can’t play. I have nothing to do that. We are going to continue to support him and continue to go out and play ball.”
Outsiders are making a bigger deal about the situation than the players, senior quarterback Connor Shaw said.
“It doesn’t faze us at all,” he said. “I think it’s just everybody surrounding us making it a big deal. All I know is Clowney has helped us win a lot of games, and he will in the future as well.”
It hasn’t fazed Clowney either, he said.
“I am always happy,” he said. “I wake up every morning with a smile on my face. I go to sleep with a smile on my face. I’m just a happy guy. I don’t let any of this get to me. I am just going to keep doing my thing and keep moving forward.”