By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. —
It was quite a week for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — and the football season is still six weeks away.
The Gamecocks’ All-American won an ESPY award for his helmet-popping play, entertained hundreds at Southeastern Conference media days, issued a few friendly challenges to rivals and got to meet LeBron James.
“Yeah, that was something,” Clowney told The Associated Press, still flying high after departing the plane from his coast-to-coast adventures. “He stopped me and said, ‘Hey, the sack killer’ or something like that.”
Soon after, Clowney joined James’ as an ESPY winner, striding up the steps at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles to accept the trophy for best play from last year. His hit on Michigan’s Vincent Smith blew loose the running back’s helmet and the ball, allowing Clowney to recover it easily in South Carolina’s Outback Bowl victory.
Clowney had a feeling he’d win. “But I was still nervous when I walked up there in front of all those celebrities,” he said. “I just gave a quick speech and got off.”
The trip West capped a wild week for the 6-foot-6, 274-pound standout. He was the centerpiece Tuesday at SEC media days and got in a few, good-natured digs at some quarterbacks he’ll face this season in Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.
Clowney said both were among players he felt were scared at facing South Carolina’s defensive line. The comments got a reaction from plenty of people. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said his senior passer wasn’t scared of anyone ever. Former Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins chimed in on Twitter that “Real men do the talking on the field.”
Both Murray and Boyd downplayed Clowney’s comments. “I’m definitely not scared. But definitely respect greatly what he’s able to do on the field,” Murray said this week.
“I like to pick at quarterbacks. That’s what I do,” Clowney said to the AP. “If they can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. I’m just playing.”
Clowney’s certainly got the right to crow a little bit. He’s helped South Carolina to a 22-4 mark his first two seasons, including going 4-0 combined vs. Murray’s Bulldogs and Boyd’s Tigers.
Clowney was named the SEC’s defensive player of the year last for his 13 sacks, 4 1-2 which came in South Carolina’s 27-17 victory at Clemson that closed the regular season.
Clowney put an exclamation point on the year with his hit on Smith that short-circuited a Wolverines’ drive and helped the Gamecocks rally to a 33-28 victory.
The highlight was played over and over since New Year’s Day. “It’s crazy to think about it sometimes,” he said.
Athletic director Ray Tanner says Clowney can’t escape the scrutiny of comments or actions, but has worked hard to do things the right way. “You want him to have a tremendous year and you want our fans to relish in that excitement,” he said.
Clowney’s anxious to get practice started and get the season going. The Gamecocks hit the field for workouts Aug. 2 and open the year at home against North Carolina on Aug. 29.
Clowney, a bit groggy from crossing the country, says he won’t slow down his preparations. He the 40-yard in 4.46 seconds dash — a number that Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier later indicated was legitimate— recently and is eager to showcase that on the field this fall.
He finished sixth in last year’s Heisman Trophy balloting behind Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, but says winning that honor is down the list from leading the Gamecocks to an SEC championship.
Clowney said his time in front of the cameras this week was a break from his typical routine of working out and staying clear of the controversies he’s seen others stars like Manziel battle at times this offseason.
He doesn’t go to bars or do drugs, he says, and stays off social media sites like Twitter. “There’s not really a lot I do. I hang with the same people I grew up with so that’s how I stay out of trouble,” he said.
Clowney understands, though, that he can’t avoid the spotlight if he raises his game again this season.
“There’s always been pressure on me since I came to college,” he said. “So to keep on living up to the hype is a big deal to me.”