COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’a Jadeveon Clowney was in the middle of chaos Friday morning, grade-school children swarming the Gamecocks’ new defensive end. Then again, it’s been that way ever since the country’s No. 1 college prospect arrived on campus nearly two weeks ago.
“It’s pretty fun,” Clowney said. “Everybody looking forward to this season.”
He and several South Carolina teammates took part in a “Pigskin Poets” gathering at the Richland County Public Library’s main branch. The group read to kids, then signed posters and t-shirts and posed for pictures. The main attraction was Clowney, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound player from Rock Hill who was the nation’s top recruit. When Clowney picked South Carolina over Alabama and Clemson last Valentine’s Day, it touched off a celebration among Gamecock fans that hasn’t stopped.
Everywhere Clowney goes around town, he swallowed up by well-wishers urging him bring South Carolina championships. Not too long ago, Clowney recalled, a woman he’d never seen pulled alongside his car, rolled the window down and started waving.
“I didn’t even know Gamecocks had that many fans,” he said.
Clowney and his young teammates could bring South Carolina even more supporters.
The Gamecocks are the defending Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champions and are the pick by many to return to the title game this season. Some big reasons are the newest group brought in by coach Steve Spurrier.
While Clowney is the five-star headliner, the group is big and strong and deep. Offensive lineman Brandon Shell, the nephew of NFL great Art Shell, is 6-7 and 300 pounds. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, like Shell a four-star prospect, stands 6-4 and 270.
Quarles said everyone has jumped right into summer workouts, no matter how much attention anyone got before.
Clowney “comes in the weight room and works like everyone else,” Quarles said. “The high school stuff, all the hype and everything is over with. He’s part of the team. It’s about college football now.”
The new recruits gave the Gamecocks a boost to take into offseason workouts, especially after the way 2010 ended. South Carolina won at least nine games for just the third time in its history, but fell to national champion Auburn in the SEC title game and then to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
There was no talk of about last year among Gamecock fans at the library, happy to see their heroes up close. The mostly young crowd listened as defensive back Victor Hampton and Quarles read “Fortunately,” and quarterback Dylan Thompson and offensive lineman Terrance Campbell read “Yo! Yes?” to the crowd.
The players were scattered around the auditorium to sign whatever was put in front of them.
“This is a lot of fun to do this for the kids,” Clowney said.
South Carolina director of academic services Raymond Harrison said it’s important for young players to see the impact they can have on children through their good works. Although it’s early in their academic careers, Harrison also likes the way South Carolina’s newest players have handled their classwork.
“It’s tough on them because they’re not used to this,” he said. “But to their credit, they’ve done everything we’ve asked.”
That includes Clowney, Harrison said.
Campbell, South Carolina’s starter at right guard, said the young players arrived in shape and are keeping up in the weight room and the practice field during voluntary sessions.
“They are all looking very good, very healthy and physically, very ready to play,” he said.
That might be bad news for the rest of the SEC. The Gamecocks already enter the season with offensive gamebreakers in tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery. The defense features end Devin Taylor and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. All four were selected by league coaches for the preseason all-SEC first-team.
It could be hard for any freshman to break into that lineup. Clowney said he’s ready to try.
His South Pointe coach, Bobby Carroll, has called Clowney unblockable, blessed with a quick first step and an unceasing motor that allows him to chase down players other ends give up on.
“There’s no doubt that he’s going to succeed,” said Carroll, who’s now head coach at York High.
Clowney acknowledges that it’s been difficult at times balancing early morning workouts and weightlifting sessions with school. But he keeps striving toward the goal of making a quick impact for South Carolina.
“We’re all on the same level,” Clowney said. “Everybody’s looking forward to this season, getting better and working toward winning a championship.”