About a week ago the internet began to buzz, over whether or not South Carolina Sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney should sit out his junior season in Columbia, in order to not risk a major injury that could derail his certain NFL future. Everyone who is anyone took a stance on this issue, (or rather a side) and voiced their opinion on why he should indeed sit out next fall, or strap on the pads and hit the field. Valid points can be made for each side of the argument, and in this case no one is definitively wrong.
At 6’6″ 260lbs, Clowney is an absolute genetic freak, and arguably the best college football player in the nation. Clowney was the consensus #1 overall player in the country for the class of 2011, and arrived at South Carolina with a reputation that rivaled LeBron James’ coming out of high school. As a true freshman, playing in all 13 games in the nations best conference, the SEC, Clowney recorded 36 tackles, 12 of which were for a loss, and 8 sacks, which was 8th best in the conference. He also forced 5 fumbles, which was 8th best in the entire country. These numbers helped Clowney secure numerous accolades including, SEC Freshman of the Year, All-SEC second team, and a consensus Freshman All-American nod.
Clowney followed up his stellar freshman season with an even better, and more consistent sophomore campaign. In 11 appearances for the Gamecocks Clowney recorded 50 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks, which was tied for 3rd in the nation. Clowney recorded 4.5 sacks en route to a win against arch rival Clemson in the regular season finale. In the Outback Bowl against Michigan, Clowney recorded 5 tackles, 1 for loss. I have a good feeling you all may remember that one for loss, as it was just crowned ESPN’s “best of the best” champion for 21st straight time. With eight minutes left in the 4th quarter, after a turnover swung the momentum in Wolverines favor, Clowney ripped through the Michigan o-line and met running back Vincent Smith in the backfield, dislodging both the football and Smith’s helmet. He then plucked up the football with one hand as if it was his young. This tremendous play swung all the momentum back to South Carolina, who went on to win, 33-28. Clowney again racked up the off-season honors as he was named a consensus first team All-American, the Hendricks award recipient as the nations best defensive end, and was a finalist for the Heisman trophy.
With his remarkable sophomore season, Clowney shot to the top of the 2014 draft boards. It is well documented that football players must be 3 years out of high school before they can declare for the NFL Draft. The rule is this way because it’s hard to believe that any 17 or 18 year old could go from senior prom to battling in the trenches against the biggest, strongest, fastest athletes in the world, and in fact need multiple years in a college program to be ready. If there was ever an exception to this rule, Jadeveon Clowney would be it. There is no doubt in my mind, and in the mind of many that if he was eligible this year, Clowney would be the #1 overall pick. Clowney has already dominated the nations best offensive lineman in the SEC, yet he is years away from reaching his ceiling as a football player. He is still extremely raw, and relies solely on his size and speed to beat opponents. Once he develops an array of moves and understands the game better, he is sure to continue his domination against NFL offensive lineman. This begs the question, should that on field development take place on a college campus in 2013, or on an NFL field in 2014?
Last season, Jadeveon Clowney seen his teammate Marcus Lattimore go down with a dislocation, and several torn ligaments in his right knee. Now, I seen this happen live, and it was easily the most gruesome thing I have ever saw on a football field. Upon watching the reply (why? I still don’t know), I was overcome by sickness and literally felt tingling in my right knee. Lattimore laid on the field in excruciating pain and in utter shock, as this was his second torn ACL in as many years. Lattimore, who before the injury(s) was considered a sure fire early round NFL draft pick is now rehabbing, in hopes of making his NFL dreams come true. Needless to say, what he’s endured will make his journey a whole lot harder, if not impossible to complete.
Unfortunately, this past Tuesday I witnessed a sight that I had hoped to never see again. It was that same excruciating pain, and utter shock that I seen on the face of Marcus Lattimore, only this time it was Kentucky’s super freshman center, Nerlens Noel. The projected #1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft suffered a torn ACL, and will be sidelined for the next 8 to 10 months. Barring any setbacks with his rehab, Noel will still be a lottery pick, likely in the top 5, but along with losing millions of dollars, there is no certainty that Noel will ever turn out to be an NBA star, which seemed like just a formality only four short days ago. I hope the absolute best for Noel, as I do for Lattimore, or any athlete that suffers such a devastating injury, but unfortunately the odds aren’t in their favor. 79% of NFL players who suffer ACL injuries, (the most common career threatening injury), never return to the league. Meaning that for every Adrian Peterson or Tom Brady, their are four professional athletes that will never return to the game they love, drastically affecting their livelihoods.
Now, I have always considered myself a “college guy” when it comes to sports. The pageantry, the atmosphere, the competition, it’s just so compelling and genuine, and easily my preference. For that reason, I want nothing more than to see the nations premiere football player, Jadeveon Clowney suit up on Saturdays and put on a show. After all, that is why he is at the University of South Carolina, isn’t it? While Clowney is receiving a great education on someone else’s dime, I highly doubt he chose South Carolina for the size of their library, or for the amount of Rhode Scholars they’ve produced, but instead for an array of reasons pertaining to his future in professional football. Clowney chose to play college football and he knew full and well that he would be a college kid for at least three years; he literally signed up for it. He made a commitment to the university, his coaches, and his teammates to give them his absolute all for at least three years, and playing this upcoming season would surely be the “right” thing to do, as he would be following through on all the commitments he made back when he signed that national letter of intent in February 2011.
So what should Clowney do? It seems to be the million dollar question at the moment. As I’ve already stated, I’m able to look at this from two different ends of the spectrum. What would I do if I was Jadeveon Clowney? Shut it down! Why go out there and put my future on the line, take the risk ending my career and crushing my hopes and dreams over a degree, that quite frankly I’ll probably never complete. The universities make million upon millions from these kid’s athletic prowess, and outside of an education (which I understand is great) these kids see nothing. Zero, zlich, nada. If I was Mr. Clowney or someone in his circle my advice would be to shut it down, and turn my attention to the next level, the place where my hard work could literally pay off, the NFL.
Now, contrary to every point that I just made, I do not see Clowney sitting out his junior season. Not only would it be unprecedented for him to do so, but Clowney nor his family has stated that this is even an option, and have in fact gone on record saying that he will be playing for the Gamecocks this upcoming season. Clowney understands the commitment he made and isn’t letting the injuries of Lattimore or Noel affect his decision making. As a fan of college football, I love this decision and I look forward to see Clowney wreak havoc on the field this fall. He will be a legitimate contender to become the first predominately defensive player to win a Heisman since Michigan’s Charles Woodson, on his way towards being the likely #1 overall pick in 2014.
As I stated above, it is unprecedented for a collegiate athlete to stay away from the field for a period of time, in order to lower the chances of suffering a career threatening injury. Sooner or later though it will happen, likely forcing the hand of the NCAA and the NFL. I love the college game and everything it incorporates, but unfortunately these days it’s looked upon by many as nothing more than a necessary stepping stone to the professional ranks. It’s the name of the game; everyone and every entity involved need to adjust accordingly. So, should Jadeveon Clowney sit out this upcoming season? Absolutely. Will he? Absolutely not. Either way, I can’t lose; only Jadeveon can.