Jadeveon Clowney is the best high school football prospect in the nation. In a couple of weeks, the defensive end from South Pointe High School in Rock Hill might be the best Valentine's Day gift a college coach could hope for.
Wednesday is National Signing Day and players across the country will begin their matriculation process by signing a binding national letter-of-intent. That is just about everyone but Clowney, who has said he might not sign until Feb. 14, which is his birthday and Valentine's Day.
Imagine the delight of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier if he signs Clowney, who is on the Feb. 7 cover of ESPN the Magazine. Or imagine the exuberance of Alabama boss Nick Saban if he manages to land the top player in the United States.
The pressure and hype surrounding Clowney's recruitment has been so intense he started monitoring phone calls and stopped taking them from members of the media. It has been reported that Clowney even allows phone calls from Spurrier and Saban to go to voicemail.
Clowney might just be the highest profile high school athlete the Palmetto State has ever produced. Some might argue former Summerville High star A.J. Green was the biggest recruit, but he short-circuited the recruiting process early by committing to Georgia after his sophomore season. Some might argue that former Spartanburg star Stephen Davis (Auburn, 1993-95) would have matched Clowney's hype if he would have played in a different era.
Clowney lives in an era that includes Facebook. He has 4,919 friends on the social network and almost all of them have an opinion of where he should go.
"Clowney -- What you gonna do -- Be a Champion with the Tide or mediocre with the chickens?" asked one of his Facebook friends.
"You can walk in a play for either team, but winning games is another matter," said another. "Champions play longer and in front of more people. The Tide is not going anywhere but up ..."
Clowney also plays in an era where there are numerous websites devoted to football recruiting. Clowney is a household name in just about any house that follows high school football.
He also plays in an era where ESPN is a major force and that might be the biggest reason why Clowney is the top prospect in the country.
Phil Kornblut has followed recruiting full time in the Palmetto State since 1982 and he's never seen a player from the state get the national attention Clowney receives.
"His recruitment has taken on a whole new life because of ESPN," Kornblut said. "It's as if ESPN has adopted him. He's played in two games that were televised by ESPN, and he played in their all-star game. Now, he's on the cover of their magazine. He deserves all the publicity he gets, but I don't think anyone has done as much to help one guy's publicity as ESPN has done for him."
On the cover of ESPN the Magazine, Clowney is pictured with such catchphrases as "He's a Freak" ... "BCS-ready Now" ... "Future Super Bowl MVP."
Goose Creek offensive lineman Brandon Shell is the No. 3 player in the state and is one of top line prospects in the country. He has become friends with Clowney during the recruiting process.
"We talk about what we've been through, and I can feel for him," Shell said. "My advice to him was to commit early. But he has a hard decision to make and he wants to make the right decision."
Barry Byers has covered high school football for the Rock Hill Herald for 30 years and he says the only players in his his coverage area who have come close to getting the hype Clowney has received are Chris Hope (Florida State, 1998-2001) and Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina).
"He's getting lot of publicity," Byers said. "But he should with the 171 tackles and 30 sacks he had. He's the talk of the town.
"The No. 1 question is where will he go," Byers said. "The No. 2 question is why is he taking such a long time to make a decision."
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