It seems unimaginable now, but there was a time in the not-too-distant past that my interest in college football was bracketed by the season itself. I consumed it with gusto from opening day kickoff to triple donuts on the championship game clock, but after that? I'd push back from the table. Fall wasn't for eight more months, after all, and a full Braves season would soon need my attention.
And recruiting? Keeping tabs on the whims of teenagers seemed like a questionable endeavor--a notion I've yet to disprove, mind you. I rationalized that I would become adequately familiar with star recruits through word-of-mouth and root for the rest when their time came.
Jadeveon Clowney Day
Jadeveon Clowney Day
But see, Jadeveon Clowney's time came before he was committed. It came when his highlights began to make the rounds—by now the Citizen Kane of high school reels. By then, the national media had deemed him the Next Great Talent. One couldn't help hearing about the monstrous prospect, and when I found out the Gamecocks were firmly embedded in the Clowney sweepstakes—public favorites, even—I decided to keep tabs on the situation. We wouldn't get him, I figured, but it was fun to be in the conversation.
And soon I was sucked into the churning propellers of the Jadeveon Clowney Recruitment Dirigible. As the 2010 season wore on, it seemed the fanbase was focused in equal measure on the current team (en route to an SEC East crown) and Clowney's situation. "Clowney was there for the Alabama win!" "Students chanted Clowney's name at the basketball game!" "I heard he's a silent commit!" It's easy to be pessimistic when you root for South Carolina, but excitement was palpable.
We all knew it wouldn't be over until signing day-and even that turned out to be untrue-but in the weeks leading up, the worst kind of doubt crept in. Clemson was gaining.
January 29, 2011
"He's got a Clemson sweatshirt on!"
I was at my buddy's house-actually his family's house where he squatted while in graduate school. It's a modest suburban home, and a shrine to the Clemson Tigers. Memorabilia plasters the walls, every shelf cluttered with Tiger ephemera or tailgaiting photos. Truthfully, I was numb to all this by now. I'd been friends with the guy for years, and his house was the de facto hangout spot for my high school buddies. Perhaps because of this, trash was rarely talked and there was a tacit understanding that non-partisan socializing was for the best.
We were logging some Playstation hours after work when my buddy's father, watching a Clemson basketball game in the other room, hollered the sweatshirt remark. It remains unclear if the statement was directed at us or at the universe in general, but the man was giddy, and with good reason. Clowney had awarded the Tigers his final official visit, less than a week before signing day. Fan chatter suggested that his mother liked Clemson. Snippets from Clowney's high school coach's relatively tame statement ("he liked it", for instance) met the collective eardrums of each fanbase with hyperbolic intensity.
Pessimism had plunged its spindly fingers into my skull and begun to knead. After all signs pointed to Columbia, was Jadeveon Clowney going to commit to Clemson?
February 14th, 2011
I was working from home that Tuesday. Sportscenter's vertical chyron suggested Clowney's commitment was imminent, so I abandoned my post and planted both feet in front of the television. I gazed intently, hands on knees like a coach willing his kicker to gash a 45 yard field goal in the waning seconds of a championship game. Of course, ESPN tantalized. Commercials and banter choked my anticipation and drove up my heart rate. Damn your hyde, WWL!
Finally, they cut to South Point High School. Clowney stood behind a podium, his imposing physicality cut a bit by a hint of boyish reticence you might expect from a spindly National Spelling Bee contestant. The affable, caffeinated Josh Elliott tried to banter with Clowney, who fiddled with his earpiece and responded in fragmented, nervous mutters.
Meanwhile, I hunted for clues. That's a garnet shirt! Or is it crimson? Or maybe it's a red herring and he's picking Clemson! Wait, why's our hat at the far end? No one ever picks the far hat! (Do they? Do I have time to research this?)
Thankfully, my neurotic inner monolog was interrupted by Elliott asking, at long last, for Clowney's decision:
I hollered and stomped and jumped on the couch—oh crap, is he taking the hat off? Oh, it just won't fit over his hair, phew—and pounded the table and texted friends and who knows what else. After years of pursuit and buildup, the South Carolina Gamecocks had just landed one of the best prospects college football had ever seen. South Carolina had won the Clowney Sweepstakes.
But it came at a cost. For it was then that I first truly felt that crootin' high, that unmatched rush that comes when a prospect you've tracked for months or years dons that garnet lid. The most frustrating part is that the circumstances of Jadeveon Clowney's commitment and the ensuing payoff will seldom if ever be equalled. But alas, now I'm in deep and stepping away from the circus is no easy task. Besides, I hear we're in it for this 2016 QB who's supposed to be a stud!
Thanks a lot, Jadeveon.