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This article appears in the February 7, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 recruit from the class of 2011, has yet to decide where he'll rack up sacks the next few seasons. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end from South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C., has more than 50 scholarship offers and may wait until his 18th birthday, Valentine's Day, to announce his college choice. But he's already learned a lot about the recruiting process, including how to deal with Facebook groupies and when to let Nick Saban go to voice mail.
What follows is Clowney in his own words.
BEING RANKED NO. 1 WAS A GOAL I SET years ago. People look up to you, and you get all of this attention. My high school coach, Bobby Carroll, thinks I get more mail than President Obama. I get hit up by fans on Facebook all the time; it's "Come to Bama" and "Go to Clemson" and "You need to be at Texas." Women come out of the woodwork on there too. That really got out of hand when I became the No. 1 player. I can see why people say it's hard to stay humble.
At first, it's a big thrill when coaches like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier call. But by the middle of the year, that feeling wore off. Now I just let the calls go to voice mail. What else can they tell me? I would say, though, that Alabama and South Carolina have done the best job of recruiting me. I'm comfortable with them, and it's probably because they keep calling every week. I changed my phone number once, but it wasn't because of the coaches. It was the calls from recruiting sites. They ask the same questions over and over: "Who's in your top 10? What schools are you visiting?" I got tired of that.
My parents have helped me deal with all of the attention. My mom was a good high school basketball player. My dad probably could've been a good football player. [Ed.'s note: David Morgan spent 12 years in prison for robbery. He was released in 2006 and is active in his son's life.] He keeps telling me, "Just stay out of trouble." That's motivated me a lot. I wanna make him proud.
The biggest downside of being No. 1 is that everybody thinks you always have to do everything right. People see me and think Julius Peppers, so I'm not allowed to have bad plays. At the Under Armour All-America Game in early January, I felt like there was a big target on my back. Other players know you're the No. 1 guy and try to build their reputations off of you. That's why sometimes I wish I wasn't No. 1. I did okay in the game, though I would've liked to have had more than two sacks and a forced fumble. But Deion Sanders came up to me afterward and said, "Keep your head up. You're pretty good."
I know that after being named the No. 1 player, I have to work that much harder and get better. I don't know a lot about the legacy of No. 1, but I do know some of those guys turned out to be busts. I'm trying to make sure that's not going to be me. I've been told that no matter how you do, great or not so great, you'll always be known as the No. 1 recruit in the country.
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Here's his book on recruiting, here's his thrice-weekly blog, and here are his full archives.