COLUMBIA - Over the past few months, Jadeveon Clowney has had regular conversations with former South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger.
That shouldn't surprise anyone. Clowney and Swearinger have long been close friends. Both were enforcers on the Gamecocks' defense. Neither lost to Clemson in their careers.
Clowney calls Swearinger his "home boy." It's been that way since he was a rising freshman and Swearinger was an established junior. But their conversations have taken a different tone lately, less reminiscing and more looking ahead at what the future could hold.
Swearinger, the Houston Texans' starting strong safety, could become Clowney's teammate again. The Texans have the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft on May 8. Over the past few months, the former college teammates have discussed what it would be like to reunite in the NFL.
"He said, 'Man, I hope we get you,' but he didn't really say much after that," said Clowney, the top defensive prospect in the draft. "He's just like, 'We need to get you, man. I just hope they make that decision.' I was like, 'Me too.' "
Clowney attended South Carolina's first spring practice spent outdoors Thursday. He slapped high fives with his former teammates on the defensive line, and spoke for several minutes with defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward during individual drills.
Life has been good for Clowney since he departed South Carolina's football program following the Gamecocks' win over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl this past January. He enjoys the extra free time away from college. Clowney works out after waking up each morning. The rest of his day is up to him.
Clowney has also become a wealthy man since leaving South Carolina thanks to endorsement deals, though he declined to discuss details.
"A couple, a few," Clowney said Thursday. "But I ain't going to talk about it."
That exposure - and those riches - come with a price.
The constant nitpicking that comes during the draft process has worn on Clowney. His work ethic has been criticized relentlessly. At the NFL Combine last month, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp called Clowney an athletic "freak." He also said he was "ashamed" of Clowney's game film, believing the All-American defensive end took plays off.
Clowney, always a sincere and sensitive athlete, isn't pleased with his public perception.
"I am ready for it to be over," Clowney said of the draft process. "Just hearing the media talk about everything, just really I'm ready for it to be over with. When that's over, I'll be all right."
He'll be even better if he gets to reunite with his former college teammate.
"I think it's just a pride thing," Clowney said of being drafted No. 1. "I came in South Carolina as the No. 1 player in the country. One of my goals was to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. So I'm working toward that goal, just keep pushing forward. Working hard every day, getting better - technique, strength-wise, getting my body right.
"Wherever I end up, I'm going to make the most of it."