Carolina Panthers

NFL draft: For Jadeveon Clowney, every day brings something new

Jadeveon Clowney has had cameras in his face and media following his every move for what seems like every day since his junior year of high school at Rock Hill South Pointe.

He has gone from Mr. Football in South Carolina to unanimous All-American as a South Carolina defensive end to being projected as one of the top picks in the NFL draft in May.

Could he be the No. 1 overall pick? Clowney hopes so, but he hasn’t paid much attention to predraft talk. He doesn’t like talking football, and he’d rather watch a comedy on Netflix than turn on ESPN.

“People tell me every day something new,” Clowney told the Observer on Monday. “They see me going No. 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1. I just have to wait til that day comes. Everyone, just stop telling me about it.

“Growing up, I just wanted to play in the NFL. I didn’t know all this was going to come with it.”

Clowney, who is living in Charlotte while training at Velocity Sports Performance, said it’s not too much to handle, but he admits it’s a lot. He has been celebrated for his big hit in South Carolina’s 2013 bowl and equally condemned for his perceived lack of consistency on the field.

Considered a once-in-a-decade defensive player, Clowney, at 21, has to make time for the autographs, handle the criticism, prepare to be the face of an NFL franchise and learn to be an endorser in the months leading up to the draft, which will begin May 8.

Clowney’s signature play in his three years at South Carolina came in the 2013 Outback Bowl, when he tackled Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the backfield and sent Smith’s helmet flying.

The hit is at the top of Clowney’s highlight reel, though he said he doesn’t watch it. That hit – the explosiveness off the line of scrimmage, the force of the impact, the helmet flying off as if it were an animation – became the expectation.

After a 13-sack sophomore season with the Gamecocks, Clowney had three sacks in his junior year. A leading theory explaining the dip was he didn’t give it all he had once he set his sights on the NFL.

“People want to know what’s going on,” said Clowney, who will work out privately with teams at their request. “I don’t question my motor. I feel like my motor is very good. Teams will find out very soon.”

He said he looks up to Julius Peppers, the Green Bay Packers defensive end who was drafted by the Panthers in 2002 and had a successful eight-year career with Carolina before joining the Chicago Bears. Coincidentally, the same questions asked about Clowney were asked about Peppers 12 years ago.

“What frustrates people sometimes is you don’t necessarily see it play in and play out, but it’s very rare to find players of that ability that can make game-changing plays like he can,” former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said on ESPN last week.

“What is being said about Clowney was being said exactly about Julius Peppers. … We had two months knowing we were on the clock. The question was, does Julius Peppers play with the motor, does he have the energy?”

The Clowney on the field is a stark contrast to the Clowney off it. Monday’s interview didn’t move with pace, and he spoke deeply and softly while remaining engaged.

For Clowney, it’s eat, sleep and train.

“I just really stay low-key. I don’t go anywhere,” said Clowney, who said he keeps a small circle of family and friends. “Some of my friends, they might be doing things I shouldn’t be doing, so I don’t want to get involved in it. Just staying focused, period, so I don’t get sidetracked.”

He still has to light up for the cameras, though, as he learns to be a pitchman. He’s reportedly close to a deal with Puma as his athletic apparel endorser, and Monday he fielded questions from Twitter followers on camera for a Gillette Deodorant Pressure Points series that chronicles his path to the draft.

Clowney planned to go to the Rockets-Bobcats game Monday night and sit courtside. At halftime, he was to meet Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, but he said he wasn’t nervous about meeting the basketball legend.

“No, because he’s meeting me,” Clowney said. “That’s what I’m going to tell him.”