Radio row at SEC Media Days
HOOVER, Ala. — The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, doesn’t arrive at SEC Media Days until Wednesday morning.
The SEC’s best player beat him to town Tuesday afternoon.
South Carolina’s extraordinary defensive end Jadeveon Clowney parked his 6-foot-6 chassis on a chair behind a table and looked out at a Tim Tebow-sized flock of waiting media.
He spoke of remaining humble, avoiding off-season nonsense — attention, Mr. Manziel — and wolfing down six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the other day when his weight dropped a couple of pounds below the goal.
He didn’t have to mention the 4.46-yard dash he had clocked the other day. Word of that remarkable statistic had preceded him.
“I’m blessed to be where I’m at now,’’ Clowney said.
Where he is, is unofficially on the clock as the top pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
Before that, he might win the Heisman Trophy. Don’t laugh.
“I think he can,’’ Florida offensive lineman Jon Halapio said Tuesday. “You should play against him. You’d feel the same way.’’
I was asking Florida coach Will Muschamp where he’d rank Clowney among
“Number one,’’ Muschamp blurted before the question was finished.
“He’s a guy you better account for every snap. I’d like to see him come out early (for the NFL draft) before our game.’’
The emphasis is on “every” snap.
For 70 of 71 plays on the afternoon of last Oct. 27, Clowney was held in check by Tennessee’s Antonio “Tiny” Richardson. Richardson was having the game of his UT life at offensive tackle, one that should serve him well in the NFL draft evaluation down the line.
One play got away, however. Trailing 38-35, the Vols drove late, penetrating the Gamecocks’ 20. Clowney, for once all day, managed to beat Richardson and mayhem immediately ensued. He sacked quarterback Tyler Bray, knocked the ball free and South Carolina recovered. End of story.
Of course that play wasn’t nearly as jaw-dropping as the one Clowney made against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
You’ve seen it a hundred times on ESPN. Even the Dalai Lama knows it by heart.
Michigan tailback Vincent Smith takes a handoff and then his world ends. Clowney explodes into his face, knocks Smith’s helmet off and snatches up the fumbled football with one big paw.
“That was a freaking heck of a hit,’’ said Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson. “That was unbelievable.’’
I used to cite Alabama defensive back George Teague running down a Miami receiver and stripping the ball from him in the 1992 national title game as the best defensive play I’d ever seen. Now, it’s Clowney’s one-man SWAT team raid in the Outback Bowl.
But even the man himself volunteered that the play he made against Tennessee was, while less violent, more meaningful.
“It saved us,’’ he said, “in the last couple of minutes to win that game.’’
Once upon a time, Clowney might have been playing for Tennessee that afternoon.
Pre-Steve Spurrier, South Carolina was a sleeping giant. The Gamecocks were usually mediocre, occasionally horrible. In-state talent was always available, but poaching a prospect like Clowney — he’s from Rock Hill, S.C. — was common for more prosperous rivals like the Vols or Georgia.
Albert Haynesworth is Exhibit A, but not the alpha. The 1998 national champions had three Palmetto products starting on the defensive line: Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker and Jeff Coleman.
These days, the Clowneys are more likely to stay home and make life miserable for the Vols one day a year.
Can Clowney make enough people miserable in spectacular enough fashion to become the second defensive player ever to win the Heisman? That’s a storyline for the 2013 season.
The first to do it, of course, is a bitter memory for Vol fans. Charles Woodson of Michigan snatched the 1997 Heisman that was once deemed a lock for Peyton Manning.
Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, a linebacker, finished second to Manziel last year. Clowney, as a sophomore, was sixth.
“It’s not like a goal,’’ Clowney said. “The goal for me is winning the SEC. If the Heisman comes, it’ll be there for me.’’
New York would be icing. But the cake is in Atlanta.
Get in his way at your own peril.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.