HOOVER, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference’s most feared player worked his way around the Wynfrey Hotel during the opening afternoon of SEC Media Days.
And during his time, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney confirmed another eye-opening fact about his athleticism. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive lineman recently ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds.
“I told my roommate the night before I was going to run a 4.4,” Clowney said.
He had witnesses. Teammate Bruce Ellington was among those who watched it.
“When I saw him running, I knew it was fast,” Ellington.
Clowney, regarded as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, was one of the highlights during the first day of the three-day event. While other conference stars (Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel) have had a busy offseason for off-the-field reasons, Clowney’s popularity continues to soar because of his freakish talent.
The junior is preparing for what will surely amount to his final year with the Gamecocks and is a big reason South Carolina has hopes of returning to Atlanta for another shot at the SEC Championship. It also has Clowney being mentioned as a preseason candidate for the Heisman Trophy, although it isn’t his motivation.
“It’s not really a goal for me,” Clowney said. “The goal for me is winning the SEC.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Clowney will have to “make a lot of big plays” for the Gamecocks to realize it. But anyone who watched South Carolina’s 33-28 win against Michigan in the Outback Bowl knows he’s more than capable.
The hit is infamous now: Clowney turned in one of the plays of the decade by slipping through the line of scrimmage unblocked to blast Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the backfield. The collision sent Smith’s helmet flying and forced a fumble, which Clowney recovered by plucking it off the ground with one hand.
Clowney said the reaction to the play — which has been replayed over and over again — makes him laugh now. Opponents on South Carolina’s 2013 schedule don’t exactly feel the same. When asked about his thoughts on Clowney earlier Tuesday, Florida coach Will Muschamp hopes his team won’t have to face him again.
“I’d like to see him come out early before our game,” Muschamp said. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s a guy you better account for every snap.”
Clowney expects the attention, but said he has worked on beating double teams in the offseason. It’s also clear he relishes the role of being a quarterback’s nightmare.
Clowney told a small group of reporters he could tell Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd — who he sacked 4.5 times last season — was scared of him. Clowney also named Georgia’s Aaron Murray and former Razorback Tyler Wilson.
Clowney didn’t record a sack against Arkansas last year. Wilson was sacked three times, though, and threw two interceptions in a 38-20 loss.
“You can look at a guy and tell if he’s scared," Clowney said Tuesday, according to the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. “If he’s staring at me before the ball is snapped, if he’s staring at me before every snap, I’m just like: Oh, we got him. I told (my teammates): He’s shook. We’ve just gotta get a couple hits on him (and) he’ll turn the ball over. Throwing before he wants to, sliding.”
The openness was out of character for Clowney, who admitted he was apprehensive in front of the media earlier in his career. But Spurrier continued to compliment Clowney for handling the spotlight well despite the growing attention Tuesday.
He also deemed his star player “ready to go” this season as South Carolina tries to win its second SEC East title in three years and the school’s first SEC crown.
“Jadeveon has done an excellent job of staying out of the limelight all summer,” Spurrier said. “He’s been a good teammate. He’s been there for the workouts. He’s been there doing what he’s supposed to do. …
“Individual awards, obviously he’s up for all of them that a defensive lineman can be up for. Individual awards are nice, but hopefully most important thing for him is helping us win an SEC (title). That would be the highlight for all of us.”