Big, Fast, 'And His Last Name Is Clowney': Meet Future NSD Star Demon Clowney

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterJanuary 31, 2018


FREDERICK, Maryland — Since The Hit, nothing has been the same.       

When Jadeveon Clowney crashed into Michigan's Vincent Smith on New Year's Day 2013—sending the football and Smith's helmet airborne—a moment was born that would become a sensation. Millions flooded to watch the highlight on YouTube and social media and later SportsCenter and as the "Best Play" of the year on the ESPYs. And as they did, The Hit became a title, not just a description of a play in the Outback Bowl, and the South Carolina defensive end who delivered it became a household name, not just college football's best player.

But something else happened, too. The Hit also changed the life of a sixth-grader who shared that now-household last name.

Demon (pronounced Da-Mon) Clowney didn't know the impact his cousin's Hit would have on him back then. He does now.

Five years later, Demon has become a sophomore defensive end at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, already 6'4" and 210 pounds with a body that is begging for more weight, already getting hype two years ahead of his national signing day.

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"If you hear his last name and you see him, that's all you need to know," says Sam Poggi, Demon's position coach at St. Frances. "They look alike, and athletically they're very similar.

"He walks into a room, and he immediately catches everyone's attention."

They can't help seeing a young man who could one day deliver a Hit like his cousin's.

That expectation has become part of the foundation on which this high school sophomore is building his future. But it's also only a part of it. If he is to become the next Clowney to achieve greatness, Demon will have a network of support to thank for it that far exceeds his family name.

It takes no more than a few seconds to spot him on a windy, chilly Friday morning in early November. Wearing a black and gold jersey emblazoned with the No. 85, Demon and his teammates prepare for a playoff game two days away.

His body is lean but powerful. He's quick off the ball, and his long arms come in handy as he navigates through the line of scrimmage. His movements are calculated but still raw.

It's clear that he's by no means close to what he will ultimately grow into—in body or ability—which somehow makes it that much more intriguing.

The practice is being held at Dunbar High School in the heart of downtown Baltimore, largely because St. Frances Academy doesn't have its own stadium. Having only existed since 2008, the St. Frances football team—led by head coaches Henry Russell and Biff Poggi, the latter of whom spent a year on Jim Harbaugh's Michigan staff in 2016 before returning to coach high school football—has become one the nation's elite football programs.

Future Division I football players are scattered across the field, including Alabama commit Eyabi Anoma. Eyabi is the No. 4 player in the country, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He's also one of the primary reasons Demon hasn't been playing more than a handful of series per game early in the season on an undefeated team.

Demon transferred to St. Frances following his freshman football season, after spending much of that year at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. When he made the decision to transfer, the St. Frances coaches shared the same curiosity that so many others in the profession do. They knew exactly what his last name represents.

The buzz surrounding Demon started in eighth grade. Back then, he would Google his own name and see articles pop up on an almost weekly basis. 

After football games, opposing players and fans would often ask for photos.

He hasn't yet become the can't-miss player he was billed as—at least not yet. He does have a clear wealth of ability, though.

"Ever since he was young, he has been bigger and faster than everybody else," Sam Poggi says. "And his last name is Clowney. I think it's hard sometimes for him to know who he should be. Should he be himself or the guy everyone wants him to be? There's a battle that goes on inside of him.

"You look at him, and it's just undeniable. I do think his best days will be in college and beyond, but I will be shocked if he doesn't get to being a highly effective, highly motivated machine. He has it in him."

Despite limited playing time early in the season, Demon has already heard from programs around the country. Playing at St. Frances helps. With so many players on the roster to recruit, assistant and head coaches have flocked there. Some know Demon when they arrive, having heard of him before he ever played a single high school down.

Others are hooked only when they arrive and see him in pads—and hear who he's related to.

Shamea Clowney sits on a sofa inside her Baltimore condo. An electric fireplace illuminates the room with flashes of red and orange. Pictures of Demon—some in his uniform, some in a suit—share the mantel with a lone trophy.

Like her son, Shamea shares a last name that has become a talking point no matter where she goes. She hears it at her job at the Baltimore airport and around a city where the name Clowney means something.

"People ask me what it is like being that close, but we're really not that close," Shamea says of her relationship with Jadeveon, who is her cousin's son. There is no animosity, according to Shamea. Just a case of a large family scattered across various parts of the country, all living separate lives.

Demon doesn't remember much about time spent with Jadeveon and says that while he knows other members of the family have been in touch with him, the two haven't spoken in years.

"I know there are a lot of people probably coming out of the woodwork with their hands out, and that's not me," Demon says of connecting with Jadeveon. "I'm doing what I have to do."

Demon Clowney
Demon ClowneyPhoto courtesy of the Allison family

That's not to say he doesn't feel a connection in others ways. Like everyone else, Demon recognizes that he has some of the same physical gifts Jadeveon has: the body, the power, the speed and even the smile.

Although he used to play safety and wide receiver, Demon switched to defensive end not long after The Hit. Now, he watches the Texans whenever he can to root on his cousin and see if there is anything he can add to his own game.

And when he plays Madden, there is no question of what team he'll select. "Now that they have Deshaun Watson," Demon jokes, "it's a lot more fun to play as the Texans on offense."

You can see why the idea of a cousin who made it to the ESPYs, to the NFL, to Madden would become a calling for Demon here. Jadeveon did not grow up in Baltimore, but Demon and his mother are not the only Clowneys who did. And, Demon says, "My whole family is known, in some ways, for getting caught up in Baltimore."

Which is why Shamea knew that just having a famous relative with a similar body type wasn't enough to keep Demon on the right track.

"I was afraid for my son," Shamea says. "Because I have seen a lot of young men fall victim to the street. A lot of young men."

Located in downtown Baltimore, St. Frances sits directly across from the now-defunct Baltimore City Detention Center. The cells are empty, but students still see the bars over windows and the abandoned barbed wire sitting atop fences when they begin and end their day.

There's a part of this that Shamea despises—knowing her son has to see this. There's another part of her that realizes the message it embodies.

"He's got to come out every day and face that," she says. "He's got two options. Either I go in here, or I end up in there."

But for everything she could tell Demon, she never felt it was enough when he was growing up. There was something inside her telling her she needed to do more—to ensure that Demon would be able to realize his full potential.

It began organically. Chuck Allison, a volunteer coach, was putting together an AAU basketball team, and he needed talent. He caught word of a fifth-grader—the same age as his son, Austin—who was already capable of dunking a basketball. 

So knowing nothing more than that, he reached out to the kid's mother to see if he could play.

As time passed, Clowney would begin to travel with the Allison family on road trips to tournaments. He would spend a night here or there before games or practices. Then one night over turned into two. And then three.

Then the following year, months after The Hit, Demon moved into the Allison's home in Frederick, Maryland—an hour's drive from Baltimore and the violence and trouble his mother was hoping to shield him from.

It is here, in a six-bedroom home that is roughly 8,000 square feet, that Demon spends the majority of his days when he's not at school, playing football or with his mother.

Chuck works for a construction consulting company in Washington, D.C. His wife, Kelley, works for a gene therapy company.

The decision for Demon to move in was reached collectively. The family loved having him around, and Shamea recognized that this was a way to keep Demon safe and away from Baltimore, at least for a large part of week.

"The beginning was the worst," Shamea says. "But if you know Baltimore like I do, I'm really happy it's this way. There was something telling me if I didn't do this, it could've turned for the worst."

The Allisons have power of attorney for Demon. They make medical, financial and athletic decisions on his behalf, though they are in regular communication with Shamea about everything that goes on inside and outside their home.

"If he told us he was moving [back to his mother's] tomorrow, we would miss him terribly and might challenge the decision," Chuck says. "But it's his decision, and we need to support him regardless of what he decides."

Photos courtesy of the Allison family

The story that comes to mind here, of course, is that of Michael Oher, the former NFL tackle who was adopted by a family before finding collegiate and NFL stardom. Oher's journey through was eventually turned into a book and movie, The Blind Side.

But Demon's situation is unique. Everyone, from Demon to his family to his mother, expresses a certain synergy in the way it works.

When Demon moved in, the Allisons didn't know who Jadeveon Clowney was. And when The Hit took place, even they underestimated the impact it would have.

"We are constantly reiterating with him that we couldn't care less if he ever plays a sport again," Kelley says. "All we care is that he finishes school and goes to college. Nothing will change with him regarding our family if he decides not to go down a certain path. He's a part of this family for the rest of his life."

"Making it to the NFL has never been an option for me," Shamea agrees. "The most important thing I'm thinking about is his education."

Demon eases into a white chair at the kitchen table, wearing a gray shirt and blue gym shorts. The sun shines through the glass door, providing a spotlight of sorts. Austin, his brother since the fifth grade, sits across from him on the other end.

"I always wanted a brother," Austin jokes. "I told my mom that forever. I just never expected I would get one the same age as me in the fifth grade. But we really connected right away."

When Demon moved in, he rarely spoke with Chuck and Kelley beyond necessity. He connected with Austin first, mainly because the two played basketball together. When they went out to dinner, Demon would order what Austin ordered. Afterward, Demon would often retreat to his room.

Photos courtesy of the Allison family

Going back and forth between Baltimore and Frederick was a difficult adjustment, given the differences in pace and lifestyle. But now, years later, Demon has found a balance and an appreciation.

"If I never came here, I don't know if I would be playing football right now," Demon says. "I don't know where I would be. I have a lot of cousins who got caught up in a lot of things."

His room features posters of Muhammad Ali and LeBron James above his bed. A giant Cam Newton Fathead sits on the other side to the left of a large flat screen that is mounted on his wall. He even has a pet gecko, which his younger sister named Cotton Candy.

And on the left side of the room, there is a stack of shoes that stretches four rows tall—from cleats to basketball shoes, many in bright, blinding colors.

In a lot of ways, this is where his relationship with the family began. After one of the first basketball games Demon played on Chuck's team, the two went shopping. Chuck had noticed Demon looked uncomfortable.

Wearing a size 10, Demon was actually a size 12. When Chuck insisted on buying him a new pair of shoes, Demon protested. "He struggled that day," Chuck says, wiping away tears. "He was embarrassed."

To this day, the two still argue about his shoe size. And while Chuck insists that Demon wears a size 14—his measured size—he almost always wears a size 13.5.

They fight. They love one another. They disagree, as families often do. They share holidays together like Christmas, which is also Demon's birthday. The awkwardness is long gone.

"When I introduce him, I tell people that this is my son," Kelley says. "That's all I say. There's no hiding from it, because that's what he is."

A teammate's misfortune—a stomach bug—provides Demon with an unlikely opportunity. It is December 23, the day St. Frances will play its final game of the season.

After a dominating 12-0 season that culminated with a 44-7 victory over Gilman High in its conference championship game, St. Frances has traveled to Phoenix to participate in the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series—a high school showcase for four of the nation's elite high school programs.

Fellow defensive end Chris Braswell, another 2020 recruit holding offers from Michigan, Wisconsin and others, is unable to play. The development throws Demon into the starting lineup.

Down on the field before the game against Bingham High School (Utah), Sam Poggi is doing everything in his power to keep him loose—seeing the nerves and anxiety in his eyes. The pressure that he feels on an almost daily basis seems to emerge all at once now that his time has arrived.

The first play of the game is run to Demon's side—a bootleg they practiced throughout the week that he covers perfectly, hitting the quarterback hard to the ground.

Over the next few hours, with Chuck cheering for him in the stands, he is the player so many believe and hope he can become. He is fast and powerful and nearly perfect in his play—closing out the season with two sacks in a 41-3 win.

"It's exactly what he needed, and he's been on fire ever since," Poggi says. "He needs to know that he is good enough and he does belong, because there is evidence now. He's going to have some games next year that are going to blow people's minds."

Demon still has two more seasons before his own national signing day. His body will continue to evolve, becoming more like his cousin's each month. Interest from major college programs will undoubtedly follow.

Many will show interest in part because of who he is and where he comes from—a last name that will forever be tied to one of college football's most iconic moments.

But in time, in Baltimore and Frederick and eventually beyond, the name Clowney will take on new meaning. As heavy as the name is to carry right now, with The Hit somehow still fresh in our minds, it will eventually become lighter.

And soon, in football or otherwise, he will be known simply as Demon.


Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.


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