Because of one high school senior, productivity in offices across the Palmetto State is expected to fall off dramatically at 10:15 this morning.
That's when Rock Hill's Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's top college football prospect, will announce his choice between South Carolina, Clemson and Alabama.
Clowney has said he made up his mind early last week; he will clue in the world today.
The Gamecocks have long been considered the favorites for the 6-6 defensive end from South Pointe High School, but there are no guarantees in the world of recruiting until the letter of intent is received. Dabo Swinney and the Tigers have closed strong since getting Clowney on campus for an official visit in January.
"While I would still give (South Carolina) the edge," ESPN analyst Jamie Newberg said last week, "I've got to believe in stuff I've learned from Signing Day to today that Clemson is right there."
Clowney has said that visit is one thing that caused him to push back his decision from National Signing Day, Feb. 2, to today -- which happens to be his 18th birthday. Clowney will make the announcement in his high school auditorium, in front of friends, family, reporters -- and, in a sense, the country. ESPN is expected to carry his decision live on SportsCenter, the most popular sports news program in the world. (WTMZ 910-AM in Charleston will also broadcast the announcement live.)
Clowney went wire-to-wire as the top-rated player in this year's recruiting class, something that does not always happen. Some analysts consider him one of the top high school prospects in years -- and perhaps ever.
ESPN has given Clowney a scouting rating of 95 -- tied for the highest score given since the number system was introduced in 2006. Interestingly, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers was the only other defensive player to receive a 95.
The second-highest-rated player in 2011 was Louisiana defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, who received an 87. The top player in the 2010 class, current Florida defensive end Ronald Powell, was an 89.
Here is how ESPN categorizes "five-star players," who score from an 85 to 100: "A potential immediate game-changer at the major college level who could push for all-conference recognition as a true freshman. Will enter college with elite skills needed to create mismatches against top-level competition. A future All-American candidate."
Clowney and South Carolina signee Gerald Dixon helped lead defensive-minded South Pointe to the Class AAA state title game in November. The Stallions fell 27-23 to Myrtle Beach. Clowney stayed busy the next several months, playing in all-star games such as the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and the Under Armour All-American Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Despite nursing minor injuries in those games and the practices leading up to them, Clowney remained dominant against opposing offensive lines.
A two-team race between Alabama and South Carolina continued through the holidays and into January. Clowney had promised Clemson a visit because of his close relationship with assistant coach Chris Rumph.
But Rumph was hired away by Nick Saban at Alabama, which conceivably would have sweetened the pot for the Tide. Clowney, though, has continued to talk about his desire to stay close to home and play in the Palmetto State.
Clemson responded to losing Rumph by hiring Marion Hobby, a former Tigers assistant who also has NFL coaching experience. Clemson retooled its message to Clowney, leaning heavily on the success in developing Bowers into a top-five pick in this year's NFL draft.
South Carolina, meanwhile, has continually played the SEC card. The conference has won the past five national championships, and the Gamecocks are selling Clowney on the fact that, with him, they believe they could be the next champions.
A couple of Clowney's former South Pointe teammates, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety DeVonte Holloman, are current Gamecocks standouts. Clowney has mentioned that a couple of times.
Patience has been required as everyone waits on Clowney to make his decision, even extending 12 days past Signing Day.
"We're all just waiting it out," Steve Spurrier said, "like some other schools are at this time."
Today's decision is a big step toward Clowney's college career, but he still has some work to do before setting foot on campus. Multiple sources told The Post and Courier last month that Clowney needs an extremely strong academic semester to qualify by the NCAA's standards. A story in Saturday's New York Times highlighted the concerns about Clowney's ability to qualify. Clowney's high school coach, though, told multiple reporters this week that he would bet "a million dollars" on Clowney qualifying.
The recruiting part of the story at least figures to end today. Clowney has said he is weary of the process, and yet he's had a camera crew following him around the past two weeks.
This morning's news conference figures to be the crescendo of the attention on Clowney -- at least until he arrives on a college campus, either South Carolina or Clemson's, in the summer.
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