ROCK HILL, S.C. - Jadeveon Clowney isn't a guy who talks much, but on Monday morning he said all the right things to fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
In a much-hyped and eagerly anticipated press conference inside a crowded South Pointe High auditorium, the nation's No. 1 overall prospect celebrated his 18th birthday by announcing he is taking his immense talents 68 miles south to Columbia.
He chose South Carolina over Alabama and Clemson.
"I'm just glad it's over," Clowney said. "I'm tired. Maybe now, I can get some rest."
Clowney, who signed nearly two weeks after most of the country's best seniors, at one time gave serious thought to playing for the Crimson Tide, who produced the top class in the country. But, he said, Tuscaloosa simply was too far from home (400 miles).
Late in the process, Clemson also became a significant factor. A January official visit to check out the Tigers coupled with a strong haul by Clemson on National Signing Day certainly helped that program's efforts.
But in the end, Clowney's heart was with the Gamecocks. He told the more than 100 media members and others in the audience, including family and friends, he began to lean toward South Carolina "awhile back." Despite that, Clowney said he was unprepared to make a final decision on Feb. 2.
When did the picture finally become clear?
"I knew like a week ago," said Clowney, who called the final decision "easy."
Several factors led Clowney to Columbia. First and foremost was its proximity to home. The fact two former South Pointe players - cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety DeVonte Holloman - are on the South Carolina roster didn't hurt. Clowney also credited South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward for playing a major role.
"I have a good relationship with (Gamecocks assistant head coach Ellis Johnson), but I have a better relationship with Coach Ward," Clowney said.
The Gamecocks also signed the top instate player in 2010, five-star running back Marcus Lattimore. As a true freshman, Lattimore rushed for more than 1,000 yards and helped lead South Carolina to the SEC championship game. Many believe Clowney can have a similar impact in 2011.
A strongside defensive end and arguably the most polished prospect at his position in years, he recorded 32.5 sacks as a senior and 23 as a junior. In addition to having the ideal frame and uncanny athleticism, Clowney also possesses a tremendous motor.
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell described that combination as "rare."
Clowney's expectations for 2011?
"Play, and make a lot of plays," he said. "As soon as I step in there, I'm going to start."
What it all means
Here's a look at what Clowney's decision means for …
South Carolina: Clowney's signing is huge for multiple reasons. But two stand out. For starters, the Gamecocks have a need at defensive end, and that likely will provide the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Clowney, who finished his three-year varsity career with 60.5 sacks, a chance to play early. The Gamecocks won the SEC East last year partly because they consistently pressured opposing quarterbacks. South Carolina ended the season ranked seventh nationally in sacks. Clowney has the ability to ensure the program's pass rush will again be a strength.
Also, there is this: national perception. There is a certain amount of prestige a program gets when it signs the country's top-rated player. The Clowney signing keeps a spotlight on South Carolina. And for a program still craving respect, that alone is significant.
Alabama: Losing out on Clowney doesn't hurt the Tide, who still have the country's top overall recruiting class. That said, comments by both Clowney and his mother, Josenna Clowney, on Monday suggest Alabama might have signed the star had the school not been so far away. That, no doubt, has to sting just a little. Clowney's mom said after her son returned from his Jan. 14 visit to Tuscaloosa all he could talk about was the Tide. Essentially, she nixed Alabama because of distance. The Tide should be fine at defensive end. In fact, Alabama signed the No. 2 class of ends.
Clemson: The Tigers, whom Clowney visited Jan. 28, pitched Clowney on the idea he could be the program's next Da'Quan Bowers, a standout defensive end who possibly could go first overall in this year's NFL draft. In a recent interview, Clowney said Clemson defensive ends coach Marion Hobby told him he potentially could become even better than Bowers.
Clemson's biggest selling point, however, might have been Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney. Clowney told TigerIllustrated.com last week his mother "thinks he would coach me the best out of all of them." Clowney's signing would have given what already is considered the best Clemson recruiting class most can recall a fifth five-star recruit.
Team rankings: Clowney is South Carolina's 32nd signee in the Class of 2011, and the first five-star player. Before it landed Clowney, the Gamecocks had the country's No. 20 recruiting class. With his signature, South Carolina made a marginal jump of two spots to No. 18.
Conference rankings: The Gamecocks have the seventh-best class in the ultra-competitive SEC. That's up one spot thanks to the Clowney signing. They jumped Ole Miss, but remain behind Alabama (No. 1 nationally), Georgia (No. 5), LSU (No. 6), Auburn (No. 7), Florida (No. 12) and Tennessee (No. 13).
Defensive end rankings: South Carolina ranks only ninth in defensive end signings, even with Clowney. The reason? The Gamecocks inked only one other end, three-star prospect Gerald Dixon. The good news for South Carolina? No school had a higher player average (4.0 stars).
The SEC East: South Carolina returns much of its starting lineup from a 2010 team that was among the most successful in program history. If Clowney can have the immediate impact many suspect, the Gamecocks have enough pieces around him where one could argue they should again be the team to beat in the East.
Steve Spurrier: Getting Lattimore last year was big. But with Clowney, the head ball coach and the Gamecocks have one-upped themselves. When Spurrier arrived at South Carolina prior to the 2005 season, there were some who didn't think his program could consistently lure the big names to Columbia. That line of thinking has been all but crushed.