South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender going into the season.
After five games, rather than landing in the thick of the Heisman race, Clowney landed in the doghouse where he was labeled as the "biggest joke in college football."
The All-American defender missed USC's Week 6 contest with Kentucky unexpectedly, which seemed to irritate his head coach, Steve Spurrier.
In the press conference after the South Carolina's 35-28 win over UK, Spurrier was clearly discontent with his star defender:
He told me he couldn't play... I said "That's fine, you don't have to play." And, uh, We'll move on. And he may not be able to play next week, I don't know. But, uh, we're not going to worry about it, I can assure you that. If he wants to play, we'll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to. But if he doesn't want to play, he doesn't have to play—simple as that.
This story is a classic case of the media overblowing a situation, though Spurrier certainly threw gasoline on the fire with his comments.
Regardless of how he has arrived at this point, Clowney has come out looking like the bad guy and a lazy player in need of a turnaround.
It will be a three-step process toward redemption for the Rock Hill, S.C. native. First, he must fix the communication issue with his coaches, then address the public before finally making it back on the field.
The first step has already been done. Spurrier clarified the situation this week, saying that all involved handled the situation poorly. As his coach explained, Clowney made the first mistake by not going through the trainer to diagnose his injury.
Spurrier originally thought it was just bruised ribs, but later learned that it was a muscle strain around his ribs, a legitimate reason for his absence. With that communication channel now working, the friction between Clowney and the coaching staff looks to be smoothed.
Clowney then took step two when he addressed the situation in front of a horde of reporters. Addressing the situation for Clowney meant speaking to the notion that he won't play another game in a South Carolina uniform.
One reporter even asked if he is fully committed to the team. Clowney chucked and said:
Always. Regardless of what people think...I'm not looking to sit out. I'm not that type of guy... I'm here for the team... I'm here to work with the team and when I get back out there they know I'm gonna come back out there and play and do my job and take care of business on the field.
Clowney himself identified the next step, which can only be taken on the field.
As this Saturday's game with Arkansas draws near, it is looking like Clowney might play. Spurrier said Thursday that he has returned to practice and there is a good chance he will play, but he is still listed as questionable, as tweeted by David Cloninger of The State.
If Clowney does play, he'll still be dealing with the fact that he has had a slow start to the season. Through four games he has just 12 tackles, three for a loss and two sacks, as well as four hurries and a forced fumble.
While many players would be thrilled with those numbers, they are far off from the Heisman-type stats that were expected from the junior going into the season.
Clowney might not have the best opportunity to rack up sacks against Arkansas, which is primarily a running team.
However, if he can once again find his way back into the opposing team's backfield, this situation will blow over.
With every sack, the Clowney injury fiasco will become a more distant memory.
And with every bone-jarring hit, someone else will become the biggest joke in college football and his "red flags" for the upcoming NFL draft will turn back to green.
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