COLUMBIA, S.C.—One game away from wrapping up his college career, South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has already proved one thing definitively.
He's not Superman.
But he's close.
Almost universally regarded as the top high school player in the nation when he signed with the Gamecocks in 2011, Clowney has often played like it during a college career that will end after three seasons because of his very logical decision to turn pro.
He set the bar his sophomore season when he recorded 54 tackles, including 23.5 for loss and a school-record 13 sacks while earning consensus All-American honors.
His helmet-removing hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl won an ESPY Award for Play of the Year.
It also set in motion an absurd level of expectations for this season that were impossible to meet. Clowney was almost universally acclaimed as the front-runner for this year's Heisman Trophy, an unfair standard that almost doomed him from the start.
They've been handing out that heavy statue since 1935, and only once has it gone to a defensive player—Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson in 1997.
Let's face it. The Heisman is an award for quarterbacks, running backs and the occasional wide receiver who can pile up huge statistics while also playing for a winning team.
In reality, Clowney has played the role of Superman, but not every game, not every year.
This year has not matched last year statistically. He has a relatively modest 35 tackles, three sacks and and 10.5 tackles for loss.
Those are disappointing numbers for a player with supposedly superhuman qualities, but they don't account for the times his determined rush against near-constant double-teams paved the way for his teammates to rack up the remainder of the Gamecocks' 24 sacks.
These days, Clowney's contributions often go unnoticed. Oh well, so did Clark Kent's.
So Clowney will finish his career without a Heisman to his credit, but his playing career at South Carolina has been a mutually beneficial experience for himself and the Gamecocks, no matter what happens in the Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin.
Clowney will exit South Carolina after three seasons as the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, certainly no worse than a high first-rounder, and thus a millionaire as soon as he puts his signature on a pro contract.
Aside from a recent speeding ticket, he has stayed out of trouble.
South Carolina, meanwhile, has reaped the benefits of his freakish skill set the last three seasons while rolling to a 32-6 record, the best three-year run in school history, even if a bowl-game loss to Wisconsin is factored in.
Then, there's his impact on the perception of the program.
Recruits will come to South Carolina because of Clowney, just as Clowney came to South Carolina, in part, because of recruits like Stephon Gilmore, Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore before him.
Earlier this season, there was a hue and cry when bruised ribs forced Clowney to sit out at the last second against Kentucky.
The rumors, which had already started, spread like wildfire: Clowney's dogging it. He's saving himself for the NFL.
Even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier expressed some frustration after the game over what was eventually revealed as a communication breakdown between Clowney, the trainers and the coaches.
Three days later, Spurrier set the record straight with a dose of reality.
"I just want to clear the air that Jadeveon—all those No. 7 jerseys and all the money he has made for our school—he has been a tremendous, important player," Spurrier said. "Every Gamecock, including me, the coaches and everybody else, we need to be appreciative that he chose South Carolina. He could have gone anywhere in the country. He is a big reason we have had those seasons."
What Clowney has meant to the University of South Carolina transcends what can be measured in statistics, awards and the marketing of his No. 7 jersey.
He may not be Superman, but he'll leave South Carolina as the Gamecocks' closest facsimile of the Man of the Steel since Heisman-winning tailback George Rogers in 1980.
Rogers was the first overall pick in the 1981 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints and backed it up by rushing for a league-leading 1,674 yards while earning Rookie of the Year honors and a spot in the Pro Bowl.
At the very least, Clowney is an exceptional player, a certain early first-round draft choice with an incredibly bright pro future.
If that's not enough for some people to appreciate, well, then too bad.
Either way, Superman has left the building.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.
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