Jadeveon Clowney is humble, hungry

ROCK HILL, S.C. -- He's the biggest recruiting story since LeBron James. He's been tweeted about so much in the days leading up to signing day that he was trending on Twitter worldwide right along with Black History Month and the conflict in Egypt. His coach compares his celebrity status to that of a rock 'n' roll legend.

He's Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's No. 1 football recruit from Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe High School.

"It's like walking around with Elvis Presley," South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll said. "Women stop him, hand him their baby and then take pictures with him. I have eaten supper with him at restaurants, and grown men come by the table and ask for autographs. Kids are the same way. Everyone wants a picture or autograph."

Clowney, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound defensive end, can't go anywhere without being recognized or mobbed by fans. Whether it's when he's wandering the halls of his high school, in town or at the airports on his official visits, everyone knows his name. And everyone wants to know where he will play his college football.

"It's been pretty tough, but it's also been fun," Clowney said. "I get Facebooked all the time. Everyone wants me to come here or go there. That's up to me. The whole school wants to know. People want to take pictures with me. Everywhere I go, they ask for autographs. There's only one No. 1, and I am excited about it. It's an honor."

Despite all the attention from college coaches from more than 50 FBS schools, relentless fans from football-crazed programs such as Alabama, South Carolina and Clemson, ESPN The Magazine cover shoots and endless Facebook groupies, those closest to him say he has not let stardom change him one bit.

He's still the same JD.

"Jadeveon has handled it very well," said his mother, Josenna Clowney. "We all knew a couple of years ago he would have this opportunity. But no one would have imagined that it would turn out like this. It's been crazy. I mean crazy. But he's still the same. He's still humble and hungry. He just likes to play football, and he's pretty good at it."

His coach agrees.

"JD obliges all of the requests people ask for without any problems," Carroll said. "And through all this craziness, he has not changed one bit. It's not affecting his life. He's not losing his job or losing sleep. We will go someplace and stay at a hotel. That kid can fall asleep, and I will call him 100 times and beat on his door, and he will sleep right through it. People like that don't have any enemies, and they have a clear conscience.

"JD has a clear conscience. He hasn't hurt anybody, not lied, not stolen and not gotten in any trouble his whole life. He's a normal kid. It's the wildest thing I have ever seen, especially considering what he has gone through."

Clowney hit South Pointe High School by storm. He played running back as a freshman on the junior varsity team and scored 36 touchdowns. He made the switch to defensive end as a sophomore on a team that fielded the eventual Mr. Football in South Carolina, Stephon Gilmore. That's when recruiters started to take notice.

"Recruiters came to see Stephon, and they would all ask 'Who's that?' I would tell them 'That's Jadeveon Clowney, and he's only a sophomore and 15 years old,'" Carroll said.

Carroll has coached five NFL players, including Ben Watson, Derek Ross, Jeff Burris and Johnathan Joseph, but he says Clowney is the best he's seen.

"Honest to God, he hasn't scratched the surface of his potential," Carroll said about Clowney, who lived up to the hype with 32 sacks and 16 offensive touchdowns as a senior this past season. "I am telling you, I can't stop an oil leak in the Gulf or invent the next great technology, but I can coach football and evaluate players.

"[He] is the best all-around football player I have ever seen. I have seen guys that are great, and they can't touch him. Physically he's a freak, and he's the best competitor I have ever been around. He's a fierce, fierce, fierce competitor. Those are two things you just can't coach."

Another thing you can't coach is how to handle the pressure of being the nation's best. Despite the enormous pressure and the attention that's out-of-this-world, Clowney remains level-headed.

"I have been dealing with it," Clowney said. "Yeah, it's a lot of pressure on me. The last few weeks have been especially tough, but I have been dealing with it. My escape is staying home, and I just don't answer my phone. I hang out with my family and my friends."

Helping keep him grounded is an excellent support system. Clowney's inner circle is small. It's basically Mom, Dad and a friend or two.

The person who knows Clowney best is his mom, who is also his best friend. Josenna Clowney has been on all three official visits with her son to South Carolina, Alabama and Clemson. Although she'd hoped her son would sign on national signing day, she supports his decision to wait until his birthday on Feb. 14 to make the decision.

"It's become an even harder decision than we ever thought," Josenna Clowney said. "While I wish he would make it on Wednesday, I also want him to make the right decision for him. I want him to be happy, and if he wants to hold off for two more weeks and taking more time, then that's fine."

Clowney's father agrees that the final decision can't be what's best for the family. It has to be what's best for Clowney.

"I give him advice, but he knows that the decision is his," David Morgan said. "We are not going to college and playing football. He is. He has to work, go to class and do all those things. Not us. He just needs to feel comfortable with whatever he decides to do. I tell him to finish what he's started, keep the grades up and get better every day."

Most believe Clowney is down to South Carolina and Alabama, but he insists that Clemson is now in the mix after his official visit there this past weekend. Then there's the possibility that he could make more official visits.

"South Carolina and Alabama are at the top for sure, and Clemson is in the running," Clowney said. "Potentially, FSU and North Carolina are in there, too. I could visit FSU or maybe North Carolina. I am not sure who I will visit this weekend, or I may not make a visit. I haven't decided yet.

"My No. 1 goal is to make it to the NFL. It doesn't matter what school I choose, because I believe I will be a No. 1 pick one day. I will be a first-round draft pick wherever I go. I have to figure out how I am going to fit around the players. That's what I have to get in my head and do what's best for me, not what people want me to do. They are all great places for football. Sometimes I think I have to take football out of the equation and see what place best fits me."

His father has a slightly different perspective about his status.

"Yeah, he's real close [to a decision]," Morgan said. "He knows where he's going. If he visits FSU or North Carolina, that's just JD. He likes to have fun."

Fun is the last word most people would use if they were placed in Clowney's situation. With so many people looking on for 13 more days, the pressure will only mount as he comes to a final decision. But in the end, Clowney said he wouldn't change how he's handled the recruiting process.

"I have no regrets, and everything has played out just right," Clowney said. "I am very happy. I am not telling who's in it. You will see the hats. It's Alabama, Clemson and South Carolina."

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.