South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina Jadeveon Clowney told the Associated Press in December that New York "is his next thing."
Not New York as in the Jets or Giants. New York as in a finalist for the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
A lofty goal, no doubt. But after the career he's enjoyed over the last two seasons in Columbia, it's an attainable one.
After all, he's already has one 2013 "Heisman Moment"—his hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl.
Clowney finished sixth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2012. Players such as Manti Te'o, Tyrann Mathieu and Ndamukong Suh have paved the way for a defensive player to break through that glass ceiling.
But it wasn't a forgone conclusion that Clowney's star would shine this bright. Yes, he was the No. 1 prospect in the country in 2011 according to 247Sports.com. But that doesn't always translate to superstardom.
In fact, Clowney's game has evolved quite a bit from the time he signed out of South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C. to now.
In high school, he relied more on simply being bigger, faster and stronger than his opponents.
Sure, in the video above there are some plays where he uses his hands or a swim move. But for the most part, he's just destroying opposing offensive tackles and/or running through attempted double teams.
He still does those things in Columbia now, but isn't relying on them.
Clowney's freshman season at South Carolina was a learning experience, and he learned quickly. Serving primarily as the third defensive end behind Melvin Ingram and Devin Taylor, he still managed to finish second on the team with eight sacks and was named SEC Freshman of the Year by the conference's coaches.
During that season though, he struggled at times getting off of blocks, maintaining containment and generally grasping the speed and size of opposing offensive linemen in the SEC. In other words, he was "a freshman."
Above is a good illustration of "good Clowney" and "bad Clowney" from the 2011 Georgia game, his second game ever as a Gamecock.
You can see why he was so hyped up. He showed flashes of brilliance in that game, including the strip of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray at the 1:13 mark, which essentially wrapped up the game. But he struggled against the run at times and didn't get off his blocks well.
Those are things that come with time, and they came for Clowney in 2012. Former teammate Devin Taylor noticed a difference in Clowney's approach last spring, according to the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier:
“Basically, he’s willing to learn a lot more this year to become a better football player for the football,” Taylor said. “I think he used more so just his talent to work off last year; versus this year, where he’s actually listening to different things to become a better player.”
Better, he was. To the tune of a single-season 13 sacks, a school record.
He used his hands much better in 2012, got off blocks, stayed with plays longer and elevated his game to the level where it is now. That level, according to ESPN.com's Mel Kiper Jr., would make him the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft if he was eligible.
He didn't just make an impact on the stat sheet in 2012, he impacted the game for a full 60 minutes.
Take a look at the video below from the Georgia game.
Clowney's stats weren't overly impressive—four tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack—but he was a constant nuisance to the Bulldogs and to quarterback Aaron Murray.
Will Jadeveon Clowney win the 2013 Heisman Trophy?
With 4:21 to go in the second quarter and with South Carolina up three scores, Georgia decided to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Clowney jumped over offensive tackle Kenarious Gates and forced Murray to get rid of the football before he wanted to.
It's that kind of havoc that will continue in 2013.
It was obvious from the moment that he stepped foot on the field as a freshman that Clowney was destined to be a star. But that didn't stop him from working hard at his game.
He has progressed from a can't-miss prospect to a full-fledged stud, and the best is still yet to come.