For Jadeveon Clowney, it was about pride.
He was the nation's top player when he arrived at South Carolina three years ago. He wanted his status to stay that way upon departure. Some players in the intense, national spotlight might shy from bold statements. Clowney never did, making it clear he wanted to be the first player taken in the NFL Draft.
The former Gamecocks defensive end met his goal Thursday night when the Houston Texans used their No. 1 overall pick on Clowney.
"Who wouldn't want to be the No. 1 overall pick?" Clowney asked rhetorically last weekend at an autograph session at Woodruff High School. "It would mean a lot to me. It was one of my goals coming out of high school and college: to be the No. 1 pick in the draft and the No. 1 player in the country."
Clowney is the second South Carolina player to go first in the draft. He joined 1980 Heisman Trophy winning running back George Rogers as former Gamecocks who have been taken No. 1.
Moments after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced him as the No. 1 pick, ESPN cameras captured tears streaming down Clowney's face. Clowney, wearing a checkered navy blue suit and silver Puma lapel pin, walked from the green room to the stage at Radio City Music Hall. He placed a fitted Houston Texans cap on his head before hugging Goodell.
The moment will likely be replayed many times for years to come. Such is life as the first pick in the draft. Clowney has faced plenty of expectations along his way. He said nothing will compare to the pressure of being the No. 1 pick.
"I'm ready to live up to (the expectations)," Clowney told ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber moments after he was drafted. "It doesn't matter what people say about me. I know how I am. I know I can approach this game the way I want to. I'm just going to take my game to the next level. Go out there, learn the game, and just play."
Trade rumors swirled around the Texans for much of the past five months, but they quieted Thursday afternoon. Houston was going to keep its first pick. Everyone else, including Clowney, had to wait and watch what would happen.
The reward for his patience was a life-changing moment. Just 24 hours before, Clowney visited with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show and joked about still being "broke." Not anymore.
Clowney's deal is expected to be worth approximately $24 million over four years, with potentially a $16 million signing bonus, according to Over the Cap.
"I was nervous," Clowney said. "I was like, 'Who are they going to pick? Who are they going to pick?' They didn't give me a phone call. I just had to let it out. I was happy about that moment, that situation."
Clowney will be expected to be an impact player with Houston. He'll play for Texans owner Bob McNair - a South Carolina alum - and first-year coach Bill O'Brien. He'll also join Pro Bowl defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
Some analysts doubted whether Clowney could be a natural fit in Houston's 3-4 scheme. He merely scoffed at the idea he couldn't fit into a defense.
"I'm an athlete," he said last weekend. "I tell everybody, I can play it. This is a change for me, but I think I can change over pretty good. I'll be ready to play."
The night ended a three-year journey for Clowney that always seemed to be leading to this inevitable destination. He was the consensus No. 1 player when he arrived in Columbia from South Pointe High. He was the projected No. 1 pick in the draft last year - riding momentum from The Hit against Michigan in the 2013 Outback Bowl - but NFL rules kept him at South Carolina for another year.
Clowney became the No. 1 pick despite a junior season filled with adversity. His three sacks last fall were 10 fewer than his sophomore year. Under the intensity of the national spotlight, there was no shortage of controversy. Yet Clowney helped lead South Carolina to a third straight 11-2 season, bowl victory and top-10 finish.
Clowney wasn't thinking about any of that Thursday night, not while he celebrated a life-changing moment with his mother, Josenna, and extended family.
"I think she's just as happy as I am, if not even happier," Clowney said of his mother.. "I'm just glad I can take care of my mom."
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