Last night the South Carolina Gamecocks and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney kicked off college football season against the UNC Tar Heels. There was never really much of a question about who would win the game (the 8th ranked Gamecocks were clearly the more talented team), so many viewers outside of those in Williams Brice Stadium weren’t concerned with the outcome. All eyes were on Jadeveon Clowney, the heralded defensive end that some have deemed the best defensive prospect in decades.
The commentators in the pregame show talked about Clowney’s high expectations and his performance last season. They discussed how North Carolina would game plan around him and how offensive tackle James Hurst would fare against him. They studied and commented on what seemed like his every move on both the field and the sidelines.
With all the hype comes more attention, more distractions, and quite frankly a bigger ego. All of these things could cause any normal young man to steer off-course and Clowney is no exception. The question now becomes whether he can manage the attention and remain competitive despite often times being the most athletically gifted player on the field.
I suspected this may be a problem with Clowney so I asked one of his former middle school basketball coaches whether he was competitive as a kid. He didn’t have to think long for the answer. “Nope. Dude just wanted to have fun. When you light a fire under him he’s a ball player. You just have to light the fire. He’s not a self-starter.”
Clowney is naturally an extremely gifted athlete, but right now it seems like he’s not displaying the competitive drive that would make him the unstoppable force he can be. That competitive edge will prevent him from taking plays off (which he has admitted to doing). It will help him fight through the double and triple teams that are inevitable this season. It will make him put in the extra effort to improve his conditioning. It will stop him from being distracted by all of the “fun” things that come along with being a football phenom.
The good thing for Jadeveon is that his natural talent and athleticism is 10x better than most of his peers so he already has an advantage. But in order to live up to the heightened expectations he is going to have to do more. So, will all of the hype surrounding Jadeveon Clowney negatively affect him? He’s the only one that can answer that question.