Commentary

Clowney's recruitment is talk of the town

Originally Published: February 11, 2011
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

Even in his own hometown, Jadeveon Clowney has reached rock-star status.

Anywhere he goes, he's mobbed.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Jadeveon Clowney put on a show on the field and has kept his fans following his every recruiting move.

He's signed so many autographs and posed for so many pictures that he can see the flashbulbs going off in his sleep.

All the while, Rock Hill, S.C., swells with pride.

"There's no doubt that Rock Hill is on the map now. We've been here for a while," said Cookie Massey, who played his high school football at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill and then collegiately at North Carolina in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"But with Jadeveon and everything he's done and everything he's going to do, and then all the other Division I kids to come out of here, Rock Hill is being looked at by people from all over the country."

Clowney, ESPN's No. 1-ranked prospect overall in the 2011 class, ends the suspense on Monday (ESPN at 10:20 a.m. ET on "SportsCenter") when the defensive end announces where he will play his college football. He'll do it in the auditorium at his high school, South Pointe.

School officials have already announced that the news conference won't be open to the public.

Otherwise, the whole city of Rock Hill (population 67,000) might turn out to see what will truly be one of the historic moments for this suburban Charlotte, N.C., city located just minutes south of the North Carolina state line.

"Everyone wants a piece of him. Even my phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to know where he's going to go," said Barry Byers, the longtime assistant sports editor and high school sports guru for The Herald newspaper in Rock Hill.

"I don't think he realizes the magnitude of all this. He knows it's a big deal, but I don't think he knows how big and what it's meant for the people here."

Hey, Rock Hill has had its moments.

Sparky Anderson once coached minor league baseball in Rock Hill. Steve Carlton also pitched there when he was beginning his pro career in the mid-1960s.

The first McDonald's hit town in the mid-1970s. Mel Gibson filmed "The Patriot" just outside town in Brattonsville in the late 1990s, and the Winthrop University basketball team played Cinderella in the 2007 NCAA tournament with an upset of Notre Dame.

But Clowney's recruitment and his status as the No. 1 player in the country has ushered Rock Hill onto a national stage like never before.

"There's no way to describe it, and you couldn't imagine how wild it's been," said Bobby Carroll, who was Clowney's head coach at South Pointe and has coached high school football in Rock Hill for nearly 30 years.

"A kid has gone from not having a whole lot, just an average kid, to an American icon. Coaches drive their cars right up onto our practice field. You've got five of the top 10 schools in the country, their coaches, lined up outside my office waiting to talk to him. You get nasty mail and calls from fans thinking you're trying to steer him to one school or the other.

"I'm telling you, the last 18 months have been one unbelievable ride."

And this wasn't Carroll's first rodeo, either. He also coached South Carolina All-SEC cornerback Stephon Gilmore at South Pointe, and Gilmore was a national recruit.

"At the time, I thought Stephon was a big recruit, but it doesn't hold a candle to this," said Carroll, who recently took a job at nearby York High School.

The question everybody wants to know: Where's Clowney going?

Well, he's already made up his mind, and Carroll concedes that South Carolina has been the leader for some time. Still, Carroll said Alabama probably recruited Clowney the hardest and that Clemson also made a late push.

Clowney has told only his mother, Josenna, where he's going and he told The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., he made his decision based on whom he "felt at home around the most and how I'm going to feel when I'm playing with the people."

In other words, if it's not South Carolina, it would be a bigger upset than James "Buster" Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson.

Massey, who is Josenna's cousin, has helped to counsel Clowney and the family as the process has intensified. Massey went through his own recruitment more than 20 years ago when he was trying to choose among North Carolina, South Carolina and Clemson, although he jokes that he didn't have to make his choice with the whole country watching.

"He's had fun with it, but the pressure got to the point where it was out of this world, not only for him, but for his momma," Massey said. "He knew a while back where he wanted to go. He's known. But he also likes the limelight and loves that camera being on him."

Producing marquee football talent isn't exactly new for Rock Hill. Just in this class alone, there will be five players from the three high schools in town to sign Division I scholarships.

Northwestern's Justin Worley is already enrolled at Tennessee. South Pointe's Gerald Dixon and Northwestern's Gerald Dixon Jr. (they're half-brothers) signed with South Carolina, and Northwestern's Rod Byers signed with Clemson.

There were only two high schools in town (Rock Hill and Northwestern) until South Pointe was built in 2005 and started competing in varsity football in 2006. South Pointe won the state championship in 2008 and went 15-0.

In fact, since 2001, all three high schools have won state titles.

Over the past 20 years, there have been 10 players from Rock Hill to play in the NFL or spend time on NFL rosters. Among them: Chris Hope, Ben Watson, Johnathan Joseph, Ko Simpson, Jeff Burris and Gerald Dixon.

Massey, who also coaches youth football in Rock Hill, said a lot more talent is on the way.

"I've been coaching these cats since they were in Pee Wee ball, and Rock Hill is loaded with talent," Massey said. "You might not see another Jadeveon, a kid with that size, speed and power, but you're going to see some serious talent come through here.

"Coaches know their way to Rock Hill."

As for the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Clowney, Carroll said he's blessed to have had the opportunity to coach such a specimen.

And, yes, Clowney's all that, Carroll insists.

"In my 28 years of doing this, I've never seen one like him," Carroll said. "He's the baddest human being, at least the baddest high school football player, I've ever seen. You watch his film, and you see a play you think is one of the best you've ever seen, and then you see one that's a little better.

"We've had some great football players in this town, but nobody like this."

Chris Low covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at espnclow@aol.com.

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