Published February 14, 2011
ROCK HILL, S.C. – Jadeveon Clowney's new coordinator at South Carolina was most impressed by what he didn't hear from his signee as the two spoke Monday.
When Clowney called Ellis Johnson after picking South Carolina there was no self-important, look-at-me style comments like, "Did you watch?" or "I told you," the Gamecocks defensive leader said.
"It was, 'Coach, I'm going to be ready,'" Johnson said.
Clowney ended an extra 12 days of signing suspense when he picked the Gamecocks' hat off a table that also had caps from finalists Alabama and Clemson. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had known for a while Clowney would take additional time before deciding. But it became even a bit more nerve-racking as the 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior waited for the go-ahead from ESPN, which carried his announcement live to a national audience.
When given the signal, Clowney spoke: "I'm going to the University of ..." he said, then reached for the Gamecocks' cap to the cheers of friends, family, South Pointe High students and teammates.
Clowney's choice capped a wild signing period. On Feb. 2, the first day players could sign a letter of intent — and when most did — a Georgia recruit announced his decision with the help of a bulldog puppy and another prospect's mother faxed in a letter to the school she wanted her son to attend instead of his selection.
But it was hard to match the scene at South Pointe's auditorium.
Dozens of TV cameras set up a semicircle pointed up to the lectern and table, where Clowney sat with parents Josenna Clowney and David Morgan. A documentary film crew followed Clowney as he entered the auditorium. A Columbia television station carried the drama live, the sports anchor stalling until Clowney got the green light to speak.
Students and Stallions football players on midmorning break shouted "Happy Birthday" to Clowney, who turned 18 Monday. Everyone watched the auditorium's flat screen TVs until a picture of Clowney, in his South Pointe jersey, popped up on ESPN.
"This has got me so nervous, man," Clowney said to friends before taking the stage.
Finally, he let everyone know and a large smile crossed his face.
"I'm happy," he said. "I wish I had done it on the 2nd."
So why didn't he? Blame Clowney's agreeable nature, said his mother.
"He has a hard time saying, 'No,'" she said.
Recruiting analysts thought Clowney had long favored the Gamecocks. Former teammates Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman have started in the secondary got South Carolina, and South Pointe linemate Gerald G. Dixon signed there earlier this month.
"I knew this week when he told me," Dixon said. "We were just talking about how we should be able to win multiple championships."
South Carolina confirmed it had received Clowney's letter of intent, making him the Gamecocks' 32nd signee, four of those who have already enrolled.
Clowney's announcement made an immediate impact on the Gamecocks' rankings among recruiting services. They improved from 24th to 15th on ESPN.com, 20th to 18th on Rivals.com and 13th to 11th on Scout.com.
Clowney seemed obsessed with Alabama early last fall, his mother said. Things turned after the Gamecocks 35-21 victory last October over the then top-ranked and undefeated Crimson Tide which Clowney attended.
Spurrier told him then South Carolina had the stuff to win big. "He believes that too," Spurrier said.
Clowney said he needed the extra time to ponder a decision among the three schools. He visited each one last month and said his trip to Clemson the final weekend in January gave him something to think about.
Clowney is expected to make a quick contribution on South Carolina's front line, which lost starting defensive end Cliff Matthews.
"I plan to make plays, lots of them," Clowney said.
His South Pointe coach, Bobby Carroll, has called Clowney unblockable, blessed with a quick first step and an unceasing motor that allows him to chase down players other ends give up on. Carroll remembers when he often had to keep his star defender on the sideline at practice so the rest of the team could execute plays without Clowney stopping them cold.
"When he says, 'Hey, I'm not the big fish in the small pond but the fish in the big pond,' he'll pull his weight and only get better," Carroll said.
Both Clowney and Carroll say the player will qualify academically at South Carolina. Spurrier added that Clowney is much better off grade-wise than some of the Gamecocks other signees.
Clowney won South Carolina's "Mr. Football" award given to the state's top senior. It's the third straight season the Gamecocks have signed that honoree after Gilmore in 2008 and running back Marcus Lattimore of Byrnes High in 2009.
Clowney had 162 tackles and 29½ sacks, caused 11 fumbles and scored five defensive touchdowns this season. The Stallions also put him in the backfield and he had 20 carries for 274 yards and nine TDs.
South Pointe went 38-6 during Clowney's three varsity seasons, winning one state title in Class 4A Division II in 2008.