South Carolina DE Clowney sets sights on Heisman
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)
''I believe a defensive player can win the Heisman next year,'' Clowney said.
Actually, he believes he can win it.
''That's my next thing, New York,'' Clowney said Monday night after the Gamecock's practice. ''Next season, I am going to come out and try to work harder than I did this season and try to get there.''
The consensus All-American was the Hendricks Award winner this year as the best defensive end in college. He finished sixth in the Heisman voting; Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won it. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was second and Clowney hopes he can become the first defensive player since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997 to win college football's most prestigious individual honor.
Clowney and the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (10-2) are preparing for No. 19 Michigan (8-4) in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.
Clowney, the Southeastern Conference's sacks leader with 13, took large strides forward this season and Gamecocks defensive line coach Brad Lawing expects that to continue. Clowney is a homebody, Lawing said, who'd rather be with family and friends in his hometown of Rock Hill than jetting around the country and smiling for cameras.
Clowney told Lawing at the College Football Awards show in Orlando, Fla., he was simply happy to be nominated and wasn't concerned about trophies.
''It will to you next year, I promise you,'' Lawing responded.
Clowney, 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, was the country's top college prospect coming out of South Pointe High. Lawing remembers recruiting Clowney's high school teammates DeVonte Holloman and Stephon Gilmore - a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills last spring - when prep coach Bobby Carroll said there was a 15-year-old Lawing had to watch.
Lawing rolled through hours of tape at the high school and was amazed at Clowney's skill. ''Tell him he's got a scholarship'' to South Carolina, Lawing told Carroll.
Clowney was wooed by the country's powerhouse programs and selected South Carolina over finalists Alabama and Clemson on Valentine's Day 2011.
Clowney, though, was not an instant success. His technique was ragged and desire to work hard was inconsistent. He and Lawing butted heads plenty during Clowney's freshman season.
''Sometimes when you're 18, 19 years old, you think you know everything,'' Lawing said.
Clowney's commitment to get better increased this past offseason. He spent more time watching film, refining technique and studying the game. The results were evident.
He consistently beat double teams, often leaping opposing players to cause havoc in the backfield. Clowney's best game this year came in the regular-season finale, a virtuoso showing of 4 1/2 sacks of Clemson star Tajh Boyd in the 27-17 victory over the rival Tigers.
The performance resonated with people outside of South Carolina, too.
''Everywhere we went people were talking about that game,'' Clowney said.
Clowney's got a combination of size, speed and maturity that would make him the No. 1 draft pick in April if he were eligible, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said last week. ''I don't think there would be any doubt about that,'' Kiper said.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has long said Clowney would and should leave after his junior season as a likely first-round selection.
''He's gotten a lot of attention and he's handled it well, handled it very well,'' Spurrier said. ''We all know he's a three-year player, which is fine.''
Clowney's got goals to achieve, Lawing says. He's just eight sacks away from catching Eric Norwood for the school's all-time leading sacks mark of 29. Plus, Clowney would love bettering the single-season school marks of 13 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for loss he's put up so far this year.
Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman winner, voted Clowney first on his ballot ahead of Manziel and Te'o. But Spurrier knows it would take a mega-season for Clowney to overcome the game's offensive stars who may vie for next year's Heisman.
Clowney smiles when asked if he's capable of pulling off that feat.
''It's a possibility,'' he said. ''I just keep playing my game, and I probably have a shot at winning next year.''