How Jadeveon Clowney Became The Consensus Top Football Recruit, And Why His Decision Matters

COLUMBIA SC - OCTOBER 30: Head coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks watches on against the Tennessee Volunteers during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30 2010 in Columbia South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Before Jadeveon Clowney decides between Clemson and South Carolina on Monday morning, we take a look at how the defensive end become the most coveted football recruit in the nation.

Jadeveon Clowney, Rock Hill, South Carolina's finest high school athlete, entered last fall on top of many recruiting experts' lists. That wasn't unexpected: Clowney stands six feet, six inches, weighs around 250 pounds, and brings a fusion of speed and ferocity to the defensive end position that a high schooler might possess once in a generation. But Clowney would have to back it up with his play for that ranking to stick.

After his fall, though, Clowney hadn't just earned his status as the nation's consensus top recruit: he had earned praise from nearly every corner, including one NFL coach who told ESPN's Bruce Feldman that Clowney could play in the NFL right now.

It's been quite a trek to get to this point for Clowney. He was originally a running back — presumably a terrifying one — before switching to the defensive side of the ball, putting together a nearly unfathomable set of senior year statistics in 15 games...

Clowney, who runs 4.5 in the 40, had 162 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, 11 caused fumbles, 6 fumbles recoveries, 43 quarterback pressures and five defensive touchdowns this season. On offense, he had 20 carries for 274 yards and nine touchdowns.

...and getting named National Defensive Player of the Year. And if all that seems impressive, keep in mind that Clowney's highlight videos make him look even more like, as Spencer Hall put it, "the giant thing killing people and wearing their blood as facepaint." They almost make you feel sorry for the guys on the other team.

Will all that talent and production, Clowney found himself in an enviable position. Courted and coveted by all of the nation's best college football programs, Clowney got to let recruiting come to him rather than put himself through the meat market.

He's narrowed his choices to what seems like a very logical two schools after eliminating Georgia: South Carolina's long been the front-runner and Clowney would bolster a strong recruiting class; Clemson combines the proximity with a wealth of young defensive talent, and Clowney could make mayhem with fellow top recruits Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony and follow in the footsteps of highly regarded Clemson defensive ends Gaines Adams and Da'Quan Bowers. (Every Day Should Be Saturday broke down why Clowney should and shouldn't choose South Carolina and Clemson.) Alabama's a bit of a dark horse — the Crimson Tide stayed third in the race for Clowney's services, and are reportedly out, but Nick Saban's defenses would be still more nightmarish with Clowney up front, and Clowney could opt for the best program for developing defensive players in recent years.

He'll make his announcement today at 10:15 ET, live on ESPNU, and while he's expected by many (including me) to choose South Carolina, Clemson would be no surprise. But Clowney's choice to postpone his decision past National Signing Day — part of a movement many attribute to LeBron James' televised "Decision" last summer — brought its fair share of criticism. Clowney being uncommitted for so long likely also gave the New York Times time to gin up an all-smoke-and-no-fire piece on whether Clowney will qualify academically.

Such is life as the kid whom everyone wants to ask one question: "Where are you playing in the fall, son?" When Clowney chose not to answer that on the day most do — he appeared on ESPN to say he would not be committing that day, and later set his announcement for Valentine's Day — he made himself just the latest avatar for a tiresome bit of moralizing in the "Can't these athletes just shut up and play without drawing attention to themselves?" vein that ignores the role of sports as entertainment in American society. Sure, some find a high school senior choosing his college on national television to be an unnecessary aggrandizement, but if the market for his choice is such that an announcement would happily be carried by ESPN, why shouldn't he enjoy the attention?

All that pomp and circumstance aside, though, Clowney's going to be a force for whichever squad he chooses to join in the fall, and might be a terror for three years before jumping to the NFL and doing the same. He seems like a can't miss prospect that stands as tall as any can't miss prospect ever has, and he should be a joy to watch at the collegiate level. And in a little over an hour, we'll know where Jadeveon Clowney, the pride of Rock Hill, South Carolina, has decided to commit to play college football.

And then some folks will immediately start looking for the next Jadeveon Clowney.

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