HOOVER, Ala. – Who's afraid of Jadeveon Clowney?
The South Carolina pass rushing fiend, who could become the first defense-only player in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy, named names here on Tuesday.
Surrounded by dozens of reporters at SEC Media Days, Clowney said he saw fear in the eyes of three quarterbacks last season: Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Georgia's Aaron Murray, and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.
He mentioned Boyd first and foremost: "He is scared every time we play them," Clowney said of his in-state rival. "I know he's listening right now but I'm telling the truth."
A few minutes later, Clowney was asked to elaborate. He didn't backtrack – at all. "You can tell if a player is scared if he looks at me every time before the ball is snapped," he said. Clowney had four-and-a-half sacks against Clemson in their game last season.
He went on, saying Boyd "was shook," and that he told his teammates, "We got him."
The comments reached Clemson coach Dabo Swinney within minutes. "I don't think Tajh Boyd is scared of anybody," Swinney told reporters at his media golf outing in South Carolina.
Clowney then volunteered that Murray also had that look of fear, saying he was "sliding a lot."
It's hard not to be scared of Clowney. He said every single quarterback he faced in high school was scared, which is unsurprising if you watch his sophomore year highlights. In the Gamecocks' Outback Bowl win over Michigan, Clowney delivered one of the most brutal tackles in the history of the sport, launching himself into Michigan running back Vincent Smith with such force that Smith's helmet came flying off. Football players expect to be hit, but nobody expects to be hit quite like that. On Tuesday, Clowney said he wants to talk to Smith and ask him how he's feeling. (He didn't mean it in a mocking manner, and by the way, Smith is doing fine.)
There may be even more hits like that this season. Clowney's coach, Steve Spurrier, informed reporters today that his star rusher ran a 4.46 in the 40 this off-season and is even lighter after weight training. (He's 268 pounds.) Then Spurrier was asked to compare Clowney to former Florida defensive end Jevon "The Freak" Kearse, who was one of the most feared hitters of his era. Spurrier said Clowney is "a little bit thicker" but there are "a lot of similarities." (Kearse was also around 265 lbs., and ran a 4.58 in the 40. That was and is considered incredibly quick for a man that size.) Clowney may have gone No. 1 overall had he been allowed to enter the NFL draft this year. He will likely be the top pick in 2014, unless the league's worst team needs a quarterback like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.
SEC Media Days are always about hype, but it's not too much to place Clowney at the front of the line for the Heisman race going into the season. A defender has to have an inordinate amount of attention to win that award without ever touching the ball (unless of course he strips it or intercepts it), but the mob of media around Clowney here shows the attention is already his. He will be double-teamed on every play, and he says Michigan players were pulling at his hair in the bowl game, but he's strong enough, fast enough, and savvy enough to disrupt everything in his path. "It takes a lot of effort to stop him with that strength," said Gators center Jon Halapio. Florida coach Will Muschamp might have had the line of the day Tuesday when he said he wanted Clowney to turn pro before his Gators had to face him this season.
The Heisman race began here Tuesday even before the defending Heisman champ showed up. Clowney will be the most-watched defensive player in college football this season. He will have millions of eyes on him. But if he's right in what he's saying about his opponents, he's already had plenty of eyes on him from across the line of scrimmage.
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