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January 20, 2011

Top prospect in no hurry to sign

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Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll has coached his share of top football players over the years, dealing with hundreds of college coaches coming through his school to recruit prospects.

This, however, is something completely different.

Carroll has never dealt with anything like he's currently seeing as coach of the nation's No. 1 player, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. In fact, nothing even comes close and the chaos only worsens as National Signing Day approaches. Funny thing is, Clowney's decision could come well after Feb. 2, when most of the nation's top prospects end the process by signing a letter of intent with the school of their choice.

The recruiting cycle for a high school senior usually ends on the first Wednesday of February each year, the first day they can sign scholarship papers. This year, that happens to be Groundhog Day - an odd holiday that has become known for the Bill Murray movie in which he is sentenced to live the same day over and over again.

For Carroll, some days he feels like Murray's character.

"With Jadeveon, it's another world," Carroll said. "It's been exhausting, endless and really crazy. I've never seen anything like it with coaches calling, visiting, coming through and just recruiting him as hard as anyone can be recruited. It's a blessing to have such a great player and such a great kid, but what comes with it, especially for Jadeveon, is simply overwhelming."

Clowney, a 6-foot-6, 247-pounder who has been compared with everyone from Julius Peppers to Mario Williams to Jevon Kearse, has made himself an elusive target for the media. So Carroll has stepped up and deflected the attention from his star player, becoming a buffer, a very busy buffer.

"You'll never get Jadeveon on the phone unless you've known him for years," Carroll said. "He's just a quiet kid and he doesn't like all the attention. He'd rather just go out and play and let that do the talking for him."

And Clowney's play has done quite a bit of talking during the last two years. As a junior, the rush end had 144 tackles and 23 sacks. He followed that with 162 tackles and 29.5 sacks during his senior campaign and easily emerged as the nation's top prospect. Not only the top prospect of 2011, but one of the top prospects in years.

Clowney has narrowed his list to six schools. He has already taken an official visit to South Carolina and Alabama, and will take his official visit to Florida State this weekend. Clemson will get an official visit on the weekend of Jan. 28 and then either North Carolina or LSU will get his final official visit on the weekend of Feb. 4 or Feb. 11 before a final decision is made.

Recruits are allowed five official visits - a 48-hour, on-campus visit paid by the university - during the recruiting process. Clowney will take full advantage of this before making his choice. The final signing date is April 1.

"The visits are important to him because it allows him to get to know the coaches and especially the players on the team better," Carroll said. "Jadeveon's approach to this process has always been very mature and he's always been patient and has never wanted to rush into anything. I think after all five visits he'll be able to make an informed decision, even if it is a few weeks after everyone else."

Clowney justified his spot atop the 2011 class in two recent all-star appearances. Despite missing the week of practice at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, an all-star game pitting the best players from North Carolina and South Carolina, he dominated the game with five tackles, including three sacks, while drawing five holding penalties and earning MVP honors.

Clowney followed that with another dominating performance in the Under Armour All-American Game on ESPN, a contest loaded with top players from around the nation. He registered seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Every step of the way, Clowney lived up to his billing as the nation's top dog. However, fans don't care as much about how well Clowney plays as much as where he'll play in college.

"Jadeveon has done a good job of narrowing things down a bit, but he still likes a lot of schools and he's the kind of kid who doesn't want to say no to anyone," Carroll said. "He's built up so many good relationships with so many schools, he just doesn't want to disappoint anyone. That's why it looks like it will go beyond Signing Day for him. ... I think he'll decide on his birthday, on Feb. 14, so we have close to another month or so left."

Here's what Clowney likes about each team on his list, in Carroll's words.

South Carolina: "Geography is a big advantage because there's a comfort level playing and staying close to home. He also likes the coaches. They did really well in the SEC this year and they are doing a good job of selling to top kids in-state that, if they stay home, they can win the SEC and have shown progress doing that. It also helps that he has two former teammates, Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman, that are on the roster and that he is close to."

Alabama: "Great tradition, he likes the idea of playing for (coach) Nick Saban because he won national titles and he likes (assistant coach) Sal Sunseri because he coached Julius Peppers with the Carolina Panthers. He has liked both of his trips to Alabama and came away impressed with everything about the way they do things, the way the carry themselves and the area."

Florida State: "He likes Odell Haggins quite a bit, he likes the entire coaching staff and he feels that FSU is getting back to what they were. He's very excited about seeing things down there and they have a good defensive line tradition."

Clemson: "Once again, geography is a big advantage and I think he's taken to Marion Hobby, the new defensive ends coach there. Clemson has obviously had some great defensive linemen recently so he's interested to see how they develop them over there."

North Carolina: "Jadeveon has a cousin who played at UNC so he's followed the program and coach Brian Baker, the defensive line coach, has a lot of experience. (Head coach) Butch Davis is a great coach and after all the stuff they went through this year, they still won so I think that impressed him. It's also close to home as well."

LSU: "It's another SEC school that has won a national title and have a great football tradition. And they have a strong defensive line reputation over the years, they know how to develop guys and get them in the NFL."

While six schools remain on his list, most feel this will boil down to a two-team battle between South Carolina and Alabama. Carroll, however, isn't convinced.

"I know he's serious about these visits and about the schools on his list," Carroll explained. "I honestly don't know where he's going to end up and he doesn't either, which is why he's going to take extra time to make the decision and take that extra visit. He's not doing it for fun, I can tell you that much."

It's not likely Carroll will ever deal with another recruiting whirlwind anything near this. He's stepping down as head coach at South Pointe to head back to his hometown of York, S.C., to coach Comprehensive High.

"Coaching Jadeveon will always be a highlight of my life," he said. "He's a special player and a special kid. I can't wait to follow him in college and beyond."

This time from a distance.

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