Jadeveon Clowney (GamecockCentral.com)
There wasn't much buildup, just an immediate sense of satisfaction.
As the defensive line walked through the gates of South Carolina's practice fields on Wednesday, the massive crowd grouped on the left side of the entrance knew it was coming. Then they saw a mass of braids on top of a 6-foot-6 frame and began to murmur.
Jadeveon Clowney is really here.
Clowney jogged through the gate and didn't change expression, even as the crowd began to clap and whoop. Minor details for a prospect that has been trumpeted as one of the greatest players ever, although he has yet to play a down in college.
It was only the first day, after all. No player could even have shoulder pads on, so South Carolina's team practiced in shorts and helmets.
"He plays too fast out here," coach Steve Spurrier said after the practice. "We've got to teach him practice speed. He was going right around Will Sport, faster than we could ... We try to let the quarterbacks throw the ball in these drills, with no pads on."
Clowney wasn't available afterward, but there were plenty to speak on his behalf. Like Marcus Lattimore a year before him, Clowney reported to the Gamecocks with the weight of a dominant high-school career and lofty recruiting rankings upon his shoulders. The question was, could he be as good on another level, especially in the toughest college conference in the country?
Lattimore certainly answered, winning consensus National Freshman of the Year honors in 2010. Now it's Clowney's turn.
He certainly earned an A-plus on Day 1.
"He's got tremendous ability," said Brad Lawing, Clowney's position coach. "We've had meetings and walk-throughs all day, and he's making a very concerted effort to understand what he needs to do."
Lawing had to jump on his linemen a couple of times when they were caught lollygagging a bit too much between drills, telling them to go back to the previous station and run to the new one once more. Clowney did so with the rest, and took his instruction just like the others did.
On an interception return drill, Clowney rushed the QB, turned and saw a defensive back intercept, then quit moving. Lawing was on him immediately, telling him that's not the way it will be done at USC.
"He's got to learn to run until the ball is down, but all freshmen have to learn that," Lawing said.
The next time, Clowney looked back, saw the interception and out-ran everyone into the end zone, acting as Martay Mattox's lead blocker.
"He's got some good stuff, great speed," said Byron Jerideau, a backup defensive tackle who was playing alongside Clowney on the second team. "He's really strong. He's really learning the plays and his assignments and he's going to be really good."
While some have already predicted that Clowney will triple the school's sack record in just one year and will be challenging Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery for Heisman Trophy hype by mid-season (Phil Steele put Clowney on his preseason third-team All-SEC squad), the Gamecocks are trying to take it slow. They know Clowney will undoubtedly see the field, but how much depends on how well he learns between now and Sept. 3, when the Gamecocks open the season against East Carolina in Charlotte, a stone's throw from Clowney's hometown of Rock Hill.
He's listed as the backup defensive end to Melvin Ingram, who led USC and ranked third in the SEC with nine sacks last year. Devin Taylor, a first-team All-SEC player in 2010 and probable high NFL Draft pick in a year, is on the other side. A spot won't be just handed away.
But Clowney at least made one heck of a first impression.
"We can't slow Jadeveon down," Spurrier said. "We may have to take him out of the game to slow him down."
For in-depth coverage of Gamecock sports and recruiting, visit GamecockCentral.com.