• Camp start: Friday
• Opener: North Carolina in Columbia (ESPN at 6)
• Fun fact: The Gamecocks are 11-1 the past three seasons against rivals Georgia, Florida, Tennessee at Clemson.
• Coming Thursday: Texas A&M
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney appears to have a good grasp on what he needs to accomplish in his final college football season.
If only he had a grasp on how he got his name.
“I have no clue,” a smiling Clowney said at SEC media days. “My mom came up with that name. I guess she got it from my dad, who’s named David, but they just picked a J. A lot of the names in our family start with a J with the last name C.”
Owning a unique name and unique talent, Clowney is the heavy favorite to be the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The 6-foot-6, 266-pound junior from Rock Hill, S.C., will not keep anyone guessing as to whether he will come back for his senior year, having stated he “wanted to do three years” when he arrived as a freshman.
His first two years have included 35.5 tackles for loss, 21 sacks and eight forced fumbles.
“Obviously Jadeveon Clowney is a disruptive player that every offense has to sort of change their blocking assignments to account for,” said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who has produced two consecutive 11-win seasons. “He’s ready to go, and if we’re going to have a good year, then Jadeveon has to make a lot of those big plays. He’s made a lot of big ones the first two years at South Carolina.”
Clowney’s most memorable play was the jarring hit and fumble recovery he caused at the expense of Michigan tailback Vincent Smith in the 33-28 win over the Wolverines at January’s Outback Bowl. He had a sack and strip of Tennessee’s Tyler Bray last October that preserved a 38-35 win over the Volunteers, and he had a sack and strip of Georgia’s Aaron Murray two years ago that led to the deciding touchdown in a 45-42 win.
The hit against Michigan is the one he hears about most, but Clowney has moved on with the goal of his biggest season yet furthering his chances of solidifying the top NFL spot next April.
“To get to the league it takes hard work, and that’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “I know I’m going to get double-teamed more this year, and I’ve been working on taking on a two-on-one block. I’m trying to get my hands in the right position to take on a two-on-one.”
Clowney, the top prospect nationally in the 2011 signing class, was a unanimous All-American last year and won the Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, which predated his monster hit against Michigan, and is certain to be a Heisman candidate this season as well.
Spurrier, who won the Heisman in 1966 as a Florida quarterback, never won an SEC title as a player but hopes his superstar can attain that feat.
“Obviously he’s up for all the individual awards that a defensive lineman can be up for,” Spurrier said. “Individual awards are nice, but hopefully the most important thing for him is helping us win the SEC. That would be the highlight for all of us if that were to happen.”
Said Clowney: “The goal for me is to win the SEC. That’s our biggest goal right now. If the Heisman comes, it will be there for me, but I’m not really focused on it.”
The Gamecocks are 17-7 in league games the past three seasons but have played in just one SEC championship contest, where they were thrashed 56-17 by Auburn in 2010.
With a schedule that opens against North Carolina and Georgia, both on ESPN, Clowney will have a stage to continue his dominance and begin a potentially special year for the program. It has been since 11th grade when he could go somewhere and not be recognized, but a recent 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds is evidence he’s ready to be more visible than ever.
“I’m getting better every year,” he said. “I’m using my hands more, and I know where the ball is going before it goes there. I told myself that I wanted to come in here No. 1 and leave here No. 1.
“Everything that’s happened to me now is just the greatest feeling ever. I’m blessed to be where I am.”
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.