All-America defensive end Da'Quan Bowers came to Clemson No. 1 and could leave school the same way.
Bowers, the country's top college prospect three seasons ago, is considered by some the top available player in the NFL draft. Bowers knows he'll be pushed for No. 1, particularly from Auburn defensive end Nick Fairley.
"I'm at the No. 1 spot, but he's at No. 1 on some of those boards," Bowers said Saturday. "We're going to be very competitive because we're friends. He's going to push me, I'm going to push him and on draft day we'll see who's the winner."
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was the consensus No. 1 pro pick after this fall. However, with Luck's choice to return, Bowers jumped into the mix for the top pick on many analysts' draft boards.
Bowers talked with Luck at last month's college award ceremonies. "I said, 'If you decide to stay and I leave, thank you,'" Bowers said, smiling. "It just opened up another door for me."
One with lots of cash behind it, most likely.
Last year's No. 1 pick, quarterback Sam Bradford, received $50 million guaranteed in a 6-year, $78 million deal with St. Louis. No. 2 defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got a $68 million deal, $40 million of that guaranteed. Bowers isn't concerned with speculation of NFL labor strife next season, simply pleased to be in this position.
"I probably won't have this opportunity ever again in life, so I had to take it," Bowers said.
Bowers, at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, led the country with 15½ sacks and was second nationally with 26 tackles for loss. What has pro scouts drooling, though, is Bowers' speed to blow past offensive lineman and disrupt plays.
A question sure to come up for Bowers during NFL interviews: What took you so long?
Bowers had just four sacks through two seasons and acknowledges he cut corners and had a lousy work ethic. His eyes opened, Bowers says, through the loss of two inspirational people in his father, Dennis, and former Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams.
Adams, a Chicago Bears lineman, died suddenly in January 2010. The two players, who both wore No. 93 with the Tigers, had become close and spoke each week.
Bowers' father died last August, collapsing before a concert of the family's gospel group.
Both Adams and Dennis Bowers had pushed Da'Quan to give up his lazy ways and push for greatness. "There it is, time to be a man," Bowers said.
Bowers played like few other men in Clemson history. He had a sack in nine consecutive games, surpassing the school mark of his late friend, Adams. Bowers won the Nagurski Award as the country's best defensive player and the Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end.
Bowers says his days of taking the easy way out are over and he'll continue working just as hard during his NFL career.
"I've grown up," the 20-year-old said.
Still, Bowers admitted he was torn about leaving after Clemson finished 6-7, its first losing season in 12 years.
He returned home to rural Bamberg, about four hours from campus, and talked out the pros and cons with his family. In the end, Bowers felt ready to take his game to the NFL level and remembered his father's words.
"Go with your first decision, don't think about it twice because you'll regret your situation," Bowers said. "Here I am."
Where he'll be next is anyone's guess. The Carolina Panthers hold the No. 1 choice, but may have more pressing needs than a defensive end. Bowers would love to be close to home, but will be satisfied wherever he lands.
"It just an amazing situation I'm in," he said.