(USA Today Sports Images)
Former South Carolina standout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney heard most of the criticism aimed at him last season.
He takes plays off. He does not work hard enough. He is just preserving his body for the NFL draft. He really was not injured last season.
Clowney heard, and still hears, what his critics have to say.
As you can imagine, he does not think highly of the naysayers.
"I kind of laughed at it," Clowney told Yahoo Sports. "People are going to say what they want to say. I bet half of the people that are talking can’t play football. They just see what they see, or don’t know nothing about the game. I just get a laugh out of it.
"(My thought was) just keep winning football games. They’re going to keep talking. We’re going to keep winning games and try to win the SEC East. That was one of our goals this year. We fell short, but finishing No.4 in the country has to be the best finish in South Carolina history."
Clowney could be the first player selected in the upcoming NFL draft. Many NFL observers currently believe the Houston Texans will choose Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Clowney with the No.1 overall pick.
Before that occurs, Clowney is prepared to answer questions about that critique.
Clowney entered his final season as arguably one of the best defensive ends in college football history. The 6-foot-5, 258-pound junior, was an unquestionable phenom ever since he produced a jaw-dropping, instant classic of a hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl. It has to be a highlight-reel Smith would love to forget, but the average football fan cannot.
Despite those accolades, many NFL observers criticized Clowney for not living up to their expectations, even though his team finished 11-2. The Gamecocks were ranked No.4 after a 34-24 season-ending victory against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Prior to that Clowney's decision to skip his senior season, he was accused of sometimes not playing hard enough.
That is an accusation Clowney denies.
"When I walked into the meeting rooms, all my coaches said, ‘You’re playing’ and ‘Keep playing hard.'" Clowney said. "If you watch our tapes, everybody can see I’m playing hard. Guys that don’t know anything … People expect me to get five sacks, 10 tackles for loss every game, but that wasn’t going to happen the way teams were playing me. I’m taking 80 snaps a game, all our snaps per game, I’m playing them all. Coaches were like, ‘Keep playing the way you play. We love the way you play.'"
In fact, Clowney said he played most of last season in pain because of bone spurs in his ankle.
"Right now, they’re feeling great, but during the season, it was bothering me a lot," Clowney said. "That’s just something you have to face. Sometimes it’s going to be like that. You have to have your back up against the wall in tough times and fight through it. I was fighting through it for my teammates, South Carolina and my fans."
NFL teams may fall in love with Clowney’s tenacity and athletic ability after the combine.
Clowney, who prefers to play right defensive end, has been preparing for the combine at the Athletes' Performance Institute (API). He is not ready to predict his combine performance, but expects to run the 40-yard dash in a freakish time for a man his size.
"I hope to run a 4.4 (second) right now," Clowney said. "That’s my goal. On hand times, I’ve been running 4.4s. I hope I can get a 4.4 at the combine. A 4.5, I’m not too worried about … I ain’t going to run a 4.6. I’m probably going to run low 4.5, 4.4."
If Clowney's time is that low, which will make NFL scouts happier than a teenager at the mall, he may not break a sweat. And there is a good reason why.
On Wednesday, the NFL, NFL.com and NFL Films today unveiled “Pressure Points: Presented by Gillette Deodorant,” an eight-installment web series about three key potential 2014 NFL Draft picks – tight end Eric Ebron, quarterback Aaron Murray and Clowney. “Pressure Points” first episode premieres on Wednesday at www.nfl.com/pressurepoints and gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at how these athletes push their physical and mental limits in preparation for the combine and draft.
Gillette’s all-new Clinical Clear Gel deodorant is the first ever clinical clear gel on the market, which provides consumers with a great option to combat physical, endurance sweat and mental stress sweat.
"There are two parts of it," Clowney said. "The mental and physical stress part. Working with Gillette, they help with the mental part, keeping you cool. And the workouts are going pretty good."
Clowney could have given Gillette pointers about how to handle stress without breaking a sweat.
He successfully accomplished that last season.
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