COLUMBIA – The S-word resonated through the Wynfrey Hotel’s second-floor ballroom last summer, his comment grabbing ESPN headlines and sparking national sports talk.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney thought Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was a chicken. A coward. Shriveled in fear.
He never quite turned to name-calling at SEC Media Days, but Clowney said Boyd was “scared” three times in 14 seconds. It was rapid-fire trash talk, one more South Carolina jab after four years of connecting haymakers against Clemson.
Once more, the full quote, in case four months fogged the memory.
“I can tell Tajh Boyd is scared back there,” Clowney said. “He ain’t no sitting duck, but you can see it in his eyes. He’s scared of our D line. We know that, coming into the game, we’ve got him shook already. Just get a couple hits on him, and it changes the whole game. He’s scared every time we play him.”
Clowney had every reason to puff out his chest last summer. He was more than a Heisman Trophy contender – a rarity for any defensive player. He was a heavyweight champion. College football was wrapped around his finger. And he knew it.
That was then. This is now.
Clowney is no longer the undisputed top prospect in the NFL Draft. His two sacks this season aren’t even half the 4 1/2 he had against Clemson last fall. The only one who has been called scared is him, after the star defensive end pulled himself from the lineup before South Carolina’s game against Kentucky in October.
Naturally, the topic of the S-word was brought up again this week, both in Columbia and Clemson.
“No. Not at all,” Boyd said when asked – yet again – if he’s scared of Clowney. Then he took the high road. “I mean, obviously, he’s a great player, super athletic. Obviously, we have to know where he is on the field at all times, but it’s just part of the game.”
Clowney and Boyd aren’t perfect strangers. A couple years ago, Boyd hosted Clowney on his couch when the blue-chip defensive end visited Clemson. Conversations since that visit have been infrequent, Boyd said Tuesday. Still, perhaps that familiarity broke down the usual barriers of formality.
Or, perhaps it was just a nature of the offseason.
“That was summertime talk,” Spurrier said Tuesday. “We’ve got to admit, Jadeveon had a wonderful summer, now. He had a good summer. He was out at the ESPY’s, met Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and all those guys. Now the season is here.
“There’s summertime talk, and there’s during-the-season talk. I don’t think he’s going to say anything out of the ordinary this week.”
That’s because Clowney is not going to say anything at all to media this week, at least until after Saturday’s game. Clowney has been available to reporters only once this season during game week – after the controversy following Kentucky.
Instead, senior cornerback Jimmy Legree was left to answer questions about his teammate’s trash talk.
“I didn’t sense it,” Legree said Tuesday when asked if he thought Boyd was scared. “I guess Clowney did. That’s his words. That’s what he felt like. We just played as a team, did what we had to do to take care of business.”
The S-word is an interesting side topic as Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff gets closer. South Carolina has been careful not to add to the bulletin board material. Everything has been above board this week, every word calculated.
Spurrier knows a thing or two about saying something controversial. Like most things in life, there is a time and place for it.
“Again, that’s sort of summertime talk,” Spurrier said. “I’ve probably been known to say some stuff trying to be funny. Nothing like this, but I’ve always said that’s summertime talk or offseason conversation, when you’re trying to be funny around your people, or something like that. During the season, the week of the game, we try to show respect for our opponents the best way we can.”