Valentine's Day 2011 was sweet for South Carolina and coach Steve Spurrier as the courting of Jadeveon Clowney ended with his signature on a letter of intent to play for the Gamecocks.
After months of speculation of where he'd end up -- South Carolina, Clemson, or Alabama -- the Rock Hill native placed the South Carolina hat on his head in front of a live and televised audience. It was also the star defensive end's 18th birthday.
Clowney was regarded as a five-star prospect and the nation's top high school player by Rivals.com and was named their national Defensive Player of the Year. He was considered a five-star recruit and the nation's top player by Scout.com. He was the No. 1 prospect in the nation according to 247Sports and was considered the nation's top player by PrepStar magazine, while earning first-team All-America accolades by MaxPreps and Rivals.com. He was also rated as the No. 1 prospect on ESPNU's 150.
While most freshman have very little impact in their first season, Clowney's disruptive playing style was nearly immediate.
The true freshman recorded eight sacks, 8th in the SEC that year, and 36 tackles with 12 of those for a loss. Clowney and fellow defensive end Melvin Ingram became a lethal duo that terrorized opposing quarterbacks and running backs throughout the season.
One of Clowney's biggest plays came against the Georgia Bulldogs in week two.
Up by three points with three minutes to play in the final quarter, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray took the snap, but he was quickly met by Clowney. Clowney thrashed Murray to the ground and the sheer momentum caused the football to fly out of Murray's hand and crash to the ground. Ingram recovered the ball, and ran it in for a touchdown to put the game completely out of Georgia's reach.
Clowney was showered with praise at the end of the season and named SEC Freshman of the Year by the league's coaches.
Clowney's play got even better in 2012. He recorded 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, but he is best remembered for one momentum-changing play at the 2013 Outback Bowl.
With the South Carolina offense sputtering and the Michigan Wolverines moving the ball quickly downfield, a big defensive play was necessary.
Cue "The Hit". It was the big defensive play that reinvigorated the Gamecocks and pushed them to defeat the Wolverines thanks to a few more late game plays.
Clowney's hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith has further cemented the defensive end's legacy. The hit became a hit of its own on YouTube and has been SportsCenter's Best of the Best play for its last 20 appearances.
The sky remains the limit for Clowney, who says he's trying to play for the Heisman Trophy next season. He has a high hill to climb in that endeavor. The last defensive player to win the Heisman was Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997.
However, a defensive player has gotten extremely close to the award twice in the past several seasons. Detroit Lions' defender Ndamukong Suh was a finalist for the award in 2009, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o took second place in Heisman voting just last season.
Clowney says a defensive player is closer than ever to winning college football's most prestigious award.
"I believe a defensive player can win the Heisman next year," Clowney said in an interview with ESPN.
That remains to be seen, but can you doubt him?
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