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December 21, 2010SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Jadeveon Clowney is smiling, telling jokes, chatting with teammates that have formed a semi-circle around him to listen.
During one yarn, Clowney lifts his arms up as if he's ready to body slam someone. Despite all the pressure that comes with being the nation's No. 1 prospect, Clowney is having fun. He's loose, jovial, enjoying the moment.
Clowney is a phenomenon. He doesn't look at all like a teenager. He has striking features, bulging muscles. At 6 feet 6 and 252 pounds Clowney makes the top-rated player in the 2010 class, Ronald Powell, look like a kid.
"I've been dreaming of playing in the NFL for a long time," Clowney said. "Ever since I started playing football I said I'm going to play in the NFL one day. That is still my dream. It's about being on the top level and doing something other people can't do. I said one day I want to do that."
The talent to do it is obvious. But what strikes everyone about Clowney is he's not a stiff, either. There is charisma, a certain charm and likeability. He hasn't lost the teenager in him. Sometimes players of his stature can't relate to players the same age. They lose touch.
With Clowney, it's different. He's the one leading the conversation. He's the one making others laugh. He's the ringleader, yet he's just one of the guys.
"The thing about Clowney is if you ever sit down and talk to him he has tremendous social skills," Clowney's Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll said. "He'll shoot the breeze with Nick Saban or he'll shoot the breeze with Mickey Mouse. It doesn't matter. That dude is a social magnet. People like him and he's just an interesting human being.
"He's 6-6 and it looks like he's fixing to rip your head off and at the same time he could be as delicate in the world with somebody. He's just a fun person to be around. To watch him play and to see how tenacious and ferocious he is and then to sit in a room with him and chew the fat with him, it's almost like he's not real."
The highlight tape shows Clowney as superhuman, a diabolical concoction of everything a coach dreams for in a defensive end with the height, weight, speed and athletic ability.
Take a few minutes, watch Clowney's senior video and try to find someone else in the 2011 class - maybe any class - with that kind of ability.
Not only is he a punishing tackler, he runs like a wide receiver, gets around blocks with no problem and doesn't let up. Tracks down the ball? Check. Goes all-out every single play? Check. Makes the devastating hits? Check.
Carroll has seen it for years. Sometimes, it still surprises him.
"I've had the fortune of coaching five NFL players and three were first-round draft picks and he fits that mold," Carroll said. "The thing about Clowney is he's 6-6 and weighs 252 pounds and he has the same athletic times and the speed and flexibility of a kid who weighs 200 pounds.
"He has a motor that will not quit. He has an absolute hatred for losing but he has this incredible dang desire to do well and to be first and to make the most tackles and to get a sack. It's just really amazing."
Clowney was limited in Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas practice last week with a shoulder injury - and he's no fan of the cold weather. But he shined in Saturday's game. He had five tackles, three sacks and drew five holding calls.
Clowney's story off the field is intriguing, too.
His father, David Morgan, spent nearly 12 years in jail after pleading guilty to robbing a Rock Hill, S.C., check-cashing business in 1995, according to reports.
Since Morgan's release from prison four years ago, he sees his son most days and reportedly has built a good relationship despite the difficult times. Clowney's mother, Josenna Clowney, has worked at the Frito Lay plant in Rock Hill for 14 years to provide for her two children, The State newspaper has reported.
Morgan has told multiple outlets that his main message to Clowney is to not repeat the mistakes he's made in his life. Growing up with his father behind bars matured Clowney, Carroll said, and made him realize that there are penalties for doing the wrong things. All the talent in the world will be taken away if the law is broken.
"I think his dad and that situation really made him understand that he can't be like that," Carroll said. "His dad couldn't be like that and he can't be like that. I'm sure they talk about it often."
While Morgan missed out on much of Clowney's childhood, he will be able to see Clowney's next step into the college ranks. But first, Clowney must decide on a college.
South Carolina, Alabama, LSU, Florida State and Clemson are the five serious contenders. He has already taken an official visit to Columbia, has former South Pointe teammates there and the Gamecocks are considered one of his favorites. Clowney said he has no leader.
Florida State will host Clowney on Jan. 7 and he'll visit Alabama the following weekend. Clemson and LSU will likely get official visits on the following two weekends before Clowney announces his decision on National Signing Day, Farrell reports.
Carroll said he's still amazed with how Clowney conducts himself with the game's elite coaches. After all these years, there are still things that strike Carroll about his best player.
"Every major college you can think of has sat with that kid face-to-face," Carroll said. "He wasn't intimidated. He wasn't nervous. I've seen kids get nervous and forget their own names. When Clowney talks to a college football coach he might as well be talking to me. He has that knack. He has that social grace about him that's really great."
Clowney said: "I can talk to anybody. That's me. I'm going to act the way I want to act. They're going to accept me with the way I act or they're not. They're just regular people to me. I talk to them like I'm a regular person and they talk to me like I'm a regular person, too."
Walking to the bus after practice last week, Clowney put his massive right arm around a reporter's shoulder while answering questions. He shook hands afterward and said thank you. Then he put his head down, walked across a field alone and into the waiting bus.
He's not a regular person. He's something else.