SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Clowney can win games for Gamecocks, or make NFL draft history

  • Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:05 a.m., Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:06 a.m.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney talks with teammates on the sidelines during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wofford in Columbia in November.

The script for “A Nightmare on George Rogers Boulevard” might go something like this:

South Carolina cannot get enough pressure on Aaron Murray. The crafty Georgia quarterback carves the Gamecocks during a Bulldogs' victory in Athens. ESPN immediately cuts to the Laguna Beach Draft Preparation Lab, where Jadeveon Clowney is jogging in Pacific Ocean surf.

In reality, there is zero evidence the Clowney camp has considered sitting out the 2013 season (and not much evidence that Clowney actually has a camp).

“I'm playing lol,” Clowney said via Twitter.

For the Gamecocks, he means.

It's the hottest debate of a cold college football winter: Should Clowney save his health for the 2014 draft, sue his way into the 2013 draft or none of the above?

Steve Spurrier and Marcus Lattimore have weighed in.

The Head Ball Coach predicts Clowney won't quit on his team.

Asked about Clowney, Lattimore said he doesn't regret playing at South Carolina as a junior, wrecked knee and all.

Todd McShay, who says Clowney would be the No. 1 pick if eligible for the 2013 draft, has played the “Should Clowney sit out?” game with fellow ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

It's a silly season, but a serious issue.

Paradox garnet

Clowney, a 6-6, 256-pound defensive end from Rock Hill, projects as more of the same this fall: a ferocious pass rusher good enough to compete for the Heisman Trophy and change the outcome of games.

Or, he can change the way major college football programs compensate players.

If Clowney skips his junior year to protect his body and financial interests going into the 2014 NFL draft, college football — led by the Southeastern Conference — will have some kind of stipend system in place quicker than a Tuscaloosa to Baton Rouge charter flight in nice weather.

Clowney is at once college football's most reliable in-game force and uniquely positioned to expose a potentially game-changing flaw. He is already ready for the NFL, but confined to college football by rules that require three years of post-high school seasoning.

Baseball players can sign pro contracts right out of high school.

Basketball players can bolt after a “one and done” college experience (that should be two and done or none at all).

Clowney is man, myth and money machine for Gamecocks, Inc., a subsidiary of a college football biz in which adults make money and NFL-bound stars get a free education they might use.

Spurrier, dressed here in paradox garnet, has advocated paying players “for the billions they're bringing (into college football).”

Counselor's advice

Logic says Clowney shouldn't play for South Carolina this season.

Common sense says he will.

Clowney certainly makes college football more fun and interesting — can't wait to see all the new-fangled blocking schemes this fall.

But imagine Clowney meeting with a career counselor at South Carolina. Once the ambitious young man explains that a $25 million job offer is guaranteed as long as he makes it 14 more months without getting hurt, it's hard to see Mrs. Counselor saying, “You know, Jadeveon, what you'll probably want to do in the meantime is engage in a series of extremely violent collisions with some really big and fast guys from Tennessee and Florida while avoiding those nasty double-team blocks that almost cut short your season last year.”

Laguna Beach beckons.

Or at least Clowney, while sacking more college quarterbacks, can serve as a warning shot across the bow of a fragile amateur concept.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff

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