South Carolina football got its best Valentine’s Day gift 10 years ago.
Exactly 10 years to the day, South Carolina football fans can look back on maybe the sweetest Valentine’s Day present in the program’s 113 seasons of existence. At the time, the Gamecocks were pursuing a defensive end who became the top rated prospect in the history of recruiting services.
Luckily for the Gamecocks, he was located right up the road in Rock Hill, South Carolina. That player, as you may already know, was all-conference defender and eventual number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney took the world by storm with his talent and downright dominant high school highlight reels. The end was a man amongst boys, standing 6-foot-5 and possessing the speed and power to maul through opposing offensive lines. He even played a little running back throughout his career, showing off his unbelievable athleticism.
Despite garnering interest from every major university in the country, his recruitment ultimately came down to the hometown Gamecocks and powerhouse Alabama. One rumor throughout the recruiting process was that Clowney visited Columbia for its 2010 matchup with the defending national champion Crimson Tide, saying he’d commit to the school that won the contest.
The Gamecocks and Stephen Garcia would go on to take down Alabama 35-21, ending a 19-game winning streak to earn the first victory over a top ranked opponent in program history. That rumor has yet to be confirmed, but it makes for a great story.
Clowney’s recruitment, though wildly anticipated, was relatively quiet in terms of media exposure and interviews. The high schooler didn’t like the spotlight, and rarely took the time to speak with the recruiting services.
That silence made his decision that much more interesting, and certainly had folks on edge when he opted to push his commitment date back to Valentine’s day (his birthday) of 2011, rather than announcing on National Signing Day. Of course, some of those nerves eased, for Gamecocks fans at least, when the stud defender walked to the podium in garnet and black.
Luckily for the Gamecocks, he chose to stay home, and would go on to an All-SEC career over three seasons. He still holds the record for most sacks and tackles for loss in a season, and made maybe the most viral hit in the history of the sport to end his sophomore year. His three seasons in Columbia were the best three-year mark in program history, with South Carolina winning 33 games from 2011-2013.
The Gamecocks can look back on that mid February day a decade ago with memories of the best Valentine’s Day gift that program has ever received.