As 2013 comes to a close, anyone who has watched ESPN recently has most certainly seen a montage of the year’s top plays.
One of the lasting images of 2013 came on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl, when South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney burst through the line and annihilated Michigan running back Vincent Smith. Clowney forced and recovered a fumble, and sent Smith’s helmet flying back into 2012.
It is difficult to think of a single play that had such an impact on a player’s national prominence. Clowney’s hit was not only an Internet sensation, but it vaulted him into the college football spotlight and made him a household name. He became the unequivocal face of the South Carolina program.
Things have changed since that hit, however. Clowney began the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate and was projected to be a top three pick in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft.
Fighting the stomach flu in the regular season opener against North Carolina, Clowney struggled and recorded just three tackles. In the following week’s game, a loss to Georgia, he aggravated a minor foot injury, though still managed a sack. He then had perhaps his best game of the season in Week 3 against Vanderbilt, with five tackles and another sack.
But peaking in Week 3 in the midst of an already slow start is not a recipe for success. Controversy ensued when Clowney did not suit up on Oct. 5 against Kentucky due to a rib injury. Head Coach Steve Spurrier said in a postgame news conference that “if he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to.”
Though the team labeled the incident as simple miscommunication, national pundits questioned Clowney’s passion and drive. Some viewed his slow start as evidence that the national hype had gotten to his head and was affecting his game.
Upon returning, Clowney still struggled to make much of an impact. He would later sit out another game, Nov. 23 against Coastal Carolina. When the disappointing regular season finally came to a close, Clowney finished with a mediocre 36 tackles and just three sacks.
As his Heisman potential faded quickly, his draft stock fell as well. While Clowney is still considered a first round pick, scouts have questioned his toughness, labeling him soft and injury prone. He likely will not be drafted as high as he was once projected.
After the season, Clowney gave NFL scouts another reason to avoid taking him. He was arrested twice in December for speeding. Combined with his declining production and injury concerns, off-field issues give him a trifecta of red flags.
When Clowney takes the field Jan. 1 against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, it will likely be his final appearance in a Gamecocks uniform. One year to the day of Clowney’s rise to national fame, he will have an opportunity to put frustration behind him and finish his collegiate career with one last dominating performance.
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