ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Jadeveon Clowney can finally exhale. The top prospect in the Class of 2011 took the recruiting process to overtime, and 12 days after college football national signing day, the five-star defensive end from South Pointe High School finally ended the suspense and committed to South Carolina over Clemson and Alabama.
"I am relieved," Clowney said. "Oh I am happy now. I kind of wish I would have done it [on Feb. 2]. I just wasn't sure. Clemson had me thinking."
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Clowney was thinking long and hard about the Tigers and Crimson Tide, but in the end, the comfort of being close to home was just too great.
Throughout the process, which really began for Clowney three years ago, he has kept his thoughts regarding his future tightly guarded. He kept his inner circle small and no one really knew what he would ultimately do in the end. This in itself fueled the fire of speculation and added to the pressure that already came with being the No. 1 guy. To make things more problematic, Clowney extended the process, waiting until Monday, his 18th birthday, to make his decision public.
"He told me over the weekend," said Gerald Dixon, Clowney's teammate now and in the future at South Carolina. "I am very excited for him. And I am excited to play with him again. To go what he had to go through was just crazy. For him, I am glad it's over. Now things can get back to normal."
For those few around him, especially his mother, Josenna Clowney, the last couple of weeks have been more than difficult. But as signing day came and went, she knew this day was inevitable and a decision had to be made.
"I am just glad it's over," Josenna Clowney said. "I am tired. Now he can go and do what he has to do; get a degree and begin the rest of his life."
With the biggest decision of his life now behind him, Clowney can turn his focus back to his school work and hopefully gain some kind of normalcy. Over the past two months he has participated in two all-star games, won Mr. Football for the state of South Carolina, and participated in a photo shoot in New York City for ESPN the Magazine, all while trying to figure out his future. Being in that situation is not easy for anyone, especially a 17-year-old high school senior.
"There has been a lot of activity, as much as we have ever seen," said South Pointe principal Al Leonard. "It's been unimaginable. There were so many coaches that came here a few years ago for Stephon [Gilmore] but this one was so much more magnified. In many ways it has become a circus, but a well-managed circus. We have to remember that Jadeveon is a 17-year-old kid and my job was to take as much pressure off him as I could. I know he couldn't wait to get this behind him."
Former South Pointe head coach Bobby Carroll and his wife, Sherry, who grew very close to Clowney over the past four years, are also happy for Clowney.
"He's like a son to me," Sherry Carroll said. "We have spent so much time with Jadeveon over the years. We spent many nights at the Red Bowl [local restaurant] and at our house. He played Xbox with my son and daughter all the time. He was like part of the family. I know for Bobby he's like a son and he almost made that grown man cry because he's so proud of him. Me too. Jadeveon is a mild-mannered and truly loving and caring person and we wish him the best with the next chapter of his life."
For his father, David Morgan, words were hard to come by moments after his son's big announcement.
"I am so proud," Morgan said. "This is the happiest moment of my life. He's my only child and look what he has accomplished. He's the No. 1 prospect and he's going to South Carolina right down the road from us. I couldn't be happier for him. I just can't believe it.
"I am really glad it's over for him. Now begins a new chapter for Jadeveon and better things are coming. I know it. I believe it."
While Clowney's high school days are coming to an end, this is just the beginning.
"It's like watching a great movie or reading a great book," Bobby Carroll said. "You hate to see it end. Hate it. But it had to. Now he begins the next chapter and I think it will be a great one. I know him like he's one of my own, like a son. I spent so much time with him and the things I will remember the most are not about football. It's all the other stuff. Jadeveon Clowney is a great person and human being. He's just a special kid."
Now that Clowney is headed to South Carolina, things can get back to normal at South Pointe High School, but it remains to be seen if things ever get back to normal for Clowney.
"Jadeveon never said he was Superman," Bobby Carroll said. "We did and the media did. He didn't ask for all this hype and attention and I have to say that he handled everything very well. He just played football and did it very well. Now everyone will be waiting to see what he does [at South Carolina] and I don't expect him to disappoint."
For a few brief moments, hopefully Clowney can relax and enjoy his moment on his day before he begins preparations for Columbia. Odds are Clowney's life will never likely get back to the way it once was, but that's the new normal for Clowney.
"It's time to get back to work and to start lifting," Clowney said. "It's going to be big and we [South Carolina] will pull it out one of these years. I am hoping for a national championship."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.