As a sophomore in 2012, Jadeveon Clowney turned plenty of heads for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
He was named a unanimous All-American, winning the Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end, and even finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
He also literally turned the head of Michigan running back Vincent Smith on a devastating hit during the 2013 Outback Bowl, a moment which immortalized Clowney as the most feared player in college football, while also earning him an ESPY Award for Best Play of the Year.
Perhaps the scariest thing of all about Clowney is not the punishment he doles out on opposing teams, but that it appears as though he's just scratched the surface of his potential.
Clowney's rise to stardom has been far from surprising. He was one the nation's top high school recruits coming into the 2011 season and exceeded even the most ambitious of expectations by winning the SEC Freshman of the Year after recording 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks and five forced fumbles. As an encore in 2012, the 6-foot-6 defensive end pieced together the best single-season of any South Carolina defender in history with 23.5 TFL and 13 sacks. His accomplishments last season were even more impressive considering he missed a game with a sprained foot and was less than 100 percent in several other contests because of it.
Since Clowney has lived up to the incredible hype through every step of his career thus far, it's fun to imagine just how dominating his junior season could be. Unsurprisingly, Clowney buzzed up the most attention during last week's SEC Media Days and did not disappoint, offering up some refreshingly candid answers in regards to the upcoming season.
Like most defensive ends, Clowney lives for rushing the quarterback, and in a good-natured exchange with a room full of reporters, he described just how he enjoys providing sleepless nights to so many signal-callers.
"I like to pick at quarterbacks. That's what I do," Clowney said. "If they can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen."
"You can tell if a player is scared if he looks at me every time before the ball is snapped," he continued.
It's hard to blame these quarterbacks for always having their eyes out for No. 7, especially considering he doesn't just line up every play at left defensive end, but can be found all over the front seven. He's a freakish athlete who recently ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at a stout 270 pounds. His head coach Steve Spurrier even mentioned that the only defensive end he's ever seen move as quick as Clowney was his former player Javon Kearse, only Clowney's accomplishments come being 20 to 30 pounds more muscular than "The Freak" ever weighed at Florida. It's those types of measurables that have NFL scouts salivating, making Clowney one of the best defensive prospects since Bruce Smith came out of Virginia Tech nearly 30 years ago.
The Media Day sound bites didn't end there, however. Even though the Gamecocks don't face off against Texas A&M this season, one reporter was eager to ask Clowney how he would handle Johnny Manziel in the event that they go toe-to- toe in the SEC Championship Game. It's safe to say Clowney isn't the least bit intimidated by the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
"Can I get him? Yeah, I can get him...I'll try to hit him in the mouth."
In text, Clowney's comments can come off as cocky or disrespectful, but when you've accomplished as much as he has during his short career, a little bit of smack talk has been well earned.
Even with all the talk of his individual conquests, at heart, Clowney is still a team player through and through, knowing that even the highest personal honors will not get South Carolina over the hump into the nation's elite.
"(Winning the) Heisman is not really a big deal to me," Clowney said. "The big deal to me this year is winning the SEC Championship."
Even though the Gamecocks share a brutally tough conference with the defending national champions Alabama -- not to mention other BCS-caliber teams LSU, Georgia, Florida and A&M -- the program really isn't that far off from Clowney's goal. The team has gone 11-2 in each of the past two seasons, while winning a bowl game in each year. However, in the SEC, you have to be near perfect to win a championship, and despite his great success in recent years, Spurrier knows that his team has plenty of room for improvement.
"Our goal is to win the SEC," Spurrier said. "We've never done it in school history. We're going to try our best to see if we can maybe win that one game or so we've been losing in the last couple of years and try to get to the championship game and try to win it."
As for accomplishing South Carolina's ultimate goal of winning an SEC Championship, something that's escaped the football program since joining the conference in 1992, there's no better time than the present. The Gamecocks have some impressive offensive pieces in place, including third-year starting quarterback Connor Shaw, the program's all-time leader in completion percentage (.668), and Bruce Ellington, who snagged 40 receptions for 600 yards and seven TDs in 2012. The defensive also has some key components back in safety Brison Williams (52 tackles, two INTs) defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (eight TFL, 3.5 sacks).
Let's not kid ourselves though. Clowney is the centerpiece and with his star rising by the day as he attempts to further prove his worth as a future No. 1 pick in the 2014 Draft, no goal is out of reach for the Gamecocks this season.