TAMPA — The most obvious trademark of Jadeveon Clowney is his imposing stature. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, he towers over just about any crowd that surrounds him, save for maybe a group of NBA players or an Olympic volleyball team.
Once the South Carolina defensive end says his first words to any crowd, his confidence is just as obvious. Because Clowney doesn’t doubt himself.
“I just want to get the win,” Clowney said. “Whatever it takes. I don't care about who I'm going up against. They could put me against any tackle in the NFL I'll face, it doesn't bother me. I just go out there and play my game, period."
Clowney and the No. 11 Gamecocks (10-2) face No. 19 Michigan (8-4) on Tuesday in the Outback Bowl, and the sophomore is expected to be a 2014 NFL draft prospect. He has been projected by many pundits as the No. 1 pick next April — and even as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, even after only two seasons at South Carolina
He's already thrust himself into 2013 Heisman Trophy chatter, after being asked about his prospects earlier this month.
“And I was just like it’s out there for me,” Clowney said. “I wouldn’t mind getting it. If I don’t it’s not a big deal to me. I’m just going to keep playing like I’ve been playing.”
Furthermore, he'll be a figure in one of the more intriguing subplots of the Outback Bowl: A matchup against Michigan offensive guard Taylor Lewan, who, if he turns pro after the season, is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
“I take every game as a challenge,” said Clowney, who has 50 tackles this season. “I don’t care who it is or what it is, I just want to face the best.
“Obviously,” Clowney said of Lewan, “he’s one of the best.”
Lewan offered a mutual respect for Clowney, a fellow All-American.
He was reluctant to amplify a storyline.
“Playing college football, it’s my job to block, whether it’s one-on-one, or to help inside-outside, and it does not matter,” Lewan said. “I have to block.”
He added, “at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s not about Jadeveon Clowney. It’s about the University of Michigan and USC.”
In 11 games this season, Clowney has 21.5 tackles for a loss of 102 yards and 13 sacks — multiplying his output of 12 tackles for a loss of 57 yards and eight sacks in 2011. Clowney won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end, and he was one of four finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive player and awarded this year to Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o — all coming before Clowney’s 20th birthday.
ESPN’s Todd Blackledge believes that Clowney’s confidence is what has elevated him to becoming one of college football’s elite prospects.
“The biggest difference in him this year, it’s his confidence and his comfort level within the defense,” said Blackledge, a former Penn State quarterback who is now a college football analyst. “Because he’s more comfortable he’s playing faster and more relentlessly than a year ago. All of that goes together.”
While Clowney has a certain swagger about him, teammates insist it’s not a distraction.
“If he motivates it him he can do as he pleases,” Gamecocks linebacker Damario Jeffrey said. “As long as it’s not a negative to the team. Now when it starts to get in the way of the team and becomes a problem? Nah. It hasn’t. He’s still a team guy.”
Yet somehow, Clowney will likely find a way to distinguish himself.
LEWAN DECIDING: Lewan is nearing his decision as far as his future goes, but he won’t publicly state his intentions on staying or entering the NFL draft until after the Outback Bowl.
"I'm almost positive I know what I'm doing," Lewan, a redshirt junior, said. "But at the end of the day, this bowl game doesn't have to do with what I'm doing. It has nothing to do with it."
Lewan said he has received paperwork from the NFL’s draft Advisory Board, but did not discuss the contents of what he received from the board, which advises potential NFL prospects about where and how and even if they could be selected in the annual NFL draft. Filing paperwork with the board, however, does not mean that a college football player is declaring for the NFL draft.
ESPN projects Lewan as either the No. 2 or No. 3 offensive tackle in the draft.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.