When Vincent Smith’s helmet finally stopped rolling, and Mike Tirico had caught his breath, and the discussion for play of 2013 had ended only 15 hours into January, I started looking for where I’d seen Jadeveon Clowney do this before.
The award for college football’s most outstanding player was handed out a few weeks ago, but the most talented player in college football is a 6-foot-5, 275-pound sophomore who currently resides in Columbia, South Carolina. And although some of the hung-over, national TV crowd got their introduction to Clowney about as suddenly as Vincent Smith got his, the truth is that the 19-year-old from Rock Hill has been one of the best players in the country since he got to campus.
Clowney was the nation’s no. 1 recruit coming out of high school, and any question as to how that designation came about is evident in these 12 minutes.
This is a high school highlight film that has been viewed half a million times. It shows Clowney scoring five defensive touchdowns in the first two minutes. The sport no. 7 is playing in this clip is different from the one being played by those trying to stop him, and that’s what made yesterday’s destruction seem familiar. Clowney wasn’t his dominant self in South Carolina’s Outback Bowl win against Michigan (mostly because the man assigned to him is going somewhere in the first half of the first round in a few months), but the hit on Smith was enough to remind us that there are some talents that are set apart.
Last week, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman called Calvin Johnson the “LeBron James of football,” and although that may fit in some ways, the designation may be better reserved for Clowney. Rare is the teen football phenom who actually sees it all the way through without any pause in the legend. Bryce Brown was a high school superstar, too, but it wasn’t exactly a clear shot from Wichita to the NFL. Clowney has been the player everyone hoped he would be from the beginning.
It’s hard to comprehend what sort of 2013 it would take for him not to go no. 1 after his junior season ends. The scariest part of it all is that like James, Clowney will enter the league as a fraction of what he could eventually be. Right now, he’s relying on his athleticism. With time, there will come the nuance that makes talented players great ones.