Coaches key in securing Clowney

Attracting the top talent in high school football to any given university isn't a one man job. And even for a revered coach like Steve Spurrier, there is still a team effort when it comes to the recruitment of the top players. The recruitment Jadeveon Clowney was no different, as assistants Ellis Johnson and Lorenzo Ward played key roles in keeping the big defensive end in-state at USC.

In the fall of 2009, Ellis Johnson lamented the fact that many high school players in South Carolina would become enamored with glamorous out of state programs like Southern Cal or Alabama, but often overlook the major in-state universities in USC and Clemson.

But after signing South Carolina's "Mr. Football" for three straight years running, it is now apparent that Johnson and the rest of the Gamecock coaches are establishing a new trend for keeping homegrown talent coming to Columbia.

Johnson also stressed that while coaches can recruit a prospect in many ways, it is really the traditions and pride that the University of South Carolina and its people have established over the years that sells a player. Of course recruiting the nation's top prospect in Jadeveon Clowney was also a process years in that making that finally came to fruition on February 14th.

"Well I was the one that either had the misfortune or the pleasure of recruiting him," said Johnson. "But it was a good three year relationship. He started coming up when we got Stephon (Gilmore) and Devonte (Holloman). But I don't think anyone personally ever recruits a player, it was our university, Coach Spurrier, he also had a great relationship with Coach Lawing, his position coach, Coach Ward went up the last three times we went up and really developed a great communication with the kid there at the end."

Coach Johnson spoke earlier this week about the early days of USC's recruitment of Clowney and what a striking physical impression the defensive end made even as a ninth grader.

"The first time I actually saw him I was at spring practice when Stephon (Gilmore) was a rising senior and Jadeveon would have been in ninth grade, and Gerald Dixon too, I could tell at that time Gerald had the chance to be a major college player, but Jadeveon even as a player out in spring practice in the ninth grade, he just kind of jumped out at you," said Johnson. "We didn't know how big he would get, he was really a long, rangy kid at that time, but now he's got a huge frame. So you know, those players, guys who are that good, they stand out even at that age."

Clowney has also singled out USC's proximity to his home in Rock Hill as a major factor in his decision, and that one huge plus was that his family will always be able to see him play.

Coach Johnson also said that recruiting his family was one of his favorite parts of the process, and really helped establish a close relationship with the player.

"And the family, the thing I think stands out to me the most right now that I have to comment on (is that) the family was just really fun to get to know. Maybe because of my age, but the one I think I hit it off the best with was (his) grandfather. He's the color of the family, and it was a lot of fun and a pleasure to talk to him. But the whole family, really a neat family and a lot of close knit relationships and people that really cared about what his decision was. I think that ended up having a huge effect on him."

While Lorenzo Ward was not listed as Clowney's recruiter of record, Coach Spurrier and Coach Johnson spoke glowingly about the relationship Ward established with Clowney and what that relationship meant at the end of his recruitment. Ward said that getting to know Clowney personally as well as convincing him that South Carolina will compete for championships during his time there was a huge factor in getting him to Columbia.

"Coach Johnson brought me in to try to start a relationship with Jadeveon, and we did," said Ward. "I went up there with him on three different occasions and we both hit it off, we hit it off real well. I know there was a lot of speculation back and forth after signing day until today, but I actually asked Jadeveon to do me a favor, we had a bond and I said, ‘I want you to call me every day,' and he did it. I felt like we had that relationship. We didn't talk a lot about football or where you're going to school, it was just more about life, and I thank Coach Johnson for bringing me in and letting me develop that relationship with him. And like I said, this is about the University of South Carolina, this is about Jadeveon Clowney and his future, and coming here and doing well academically and helping us do what we want to do here, and that's win a championship."

And while South Carolina was long listed as his favorite and rumored to be the leader throughout the process, the coaches said it was a process, and one they didn't consider over until they received his signed National Letter of Intent.

"It's a process like it is with all the great ones, you have to have a complete team and that's what it was," said Johnson. "You never know until you get the facts, even like Coach said, he wasn't a South Carolina football player until we got the fax in," added Ward. "You feel good about it, but until you get the papers, you don't know."

After the ceremony, Clowney called the coaches to say he was ready to get to work. And while fans will be certainly be at a fever pitch from now until kickoff regarding his outstanding potential, Coach Johnson cautioned that he will have to come in ready to work in order to be successful at South Carolina.

"When he called me after he signed, he didn't say, ‘were you watching,' or ‘did you see it,' he just said, ‘Coach, I'm going to be ready. So that's what's in his heart and his mind right now. That's what his goals are and what he's thinking about right now. Physically he's ready. He already has almost NFL caliber physical abilities. But there's a learning curve, the SEC's a different neighborhood."

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