While Aggieland grew more hectic, Clowney's profile also continued to rise in Columbia, South Carolina. Had he been eligible for the NFL draft in 2013, he would have been considered a shoo-in as the first overall pick. A national debate ensued over whether Clowney should even play his junior season in order to protect himself from losing the millions he was poised to make at the next level.
With size (6-foot-5, 266 pounds), speed and athleticism that seemed superhuman, he was already a decorated player, earning All-American honors and the Hendricks Award as a sophomore. But thanks to one monstrous hit in the Outback Bowl against Michigan, which has been viewed more than 5.1 million times on YouTube, expectations became almost astronomical.
He, too, was becoming a celebrity.
"He went to the ESPYs and met LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and all those guys," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "Jay-Z, Beyonce's husband, I guess he met him. He was hanging with some big, big-time celebrities."
Both Clowney and Manziel endured challenges throughout 2013, but both wound up first-round NFL draft picks who left indelible marks on their respective programs.
The media spotlight isn't as intense now, but that doesn't mean there isn't a buzz surrounding each team. Both begin the season ranked in the top 25, and the Gamecocks are the favorites to win the SEC East after three consecutive 11-win seasons. The Aggies are breaking in a new starting quarterback ( Kenny Hill), and after going 20-6 in their first two seasons in the SEC, many are watching to see what's next for coach Kevin Sumlin's crew.
But what's life like without Clowney and Manziel?
"The other team won't have to change their offense when they play us," Spurrier said. "They'll say, 'Treat those defensive ends like everybody else.' So that'll be helpful for them. But again, we've got some young guys that are ready to play."
Sumlin made it clear that the Aggies have moved on, given the way he handled the questions about Manziel during media days in Hoover, Alabama. Flashing a smile, Sumlin made jokes when asked about his former quarterback, including: "That's a great question . . . for the Cleveland Browns."
The A&M players say they didn't pay attention to the chatter. This group is ready to show that it can win without Johnny Football.
"We really don't focus on things like that," Everett said. "Johnny was a great player and we loved him when he was here, but he's not here any more. We have to move on from that. What we're focusing on is this upcoming season and just being a better team and being that team that people don't expect us to be without Johnny. We have something to prove this year."
South Carolina defensive tackle J.T. Surratt feels similarly when the topic of Clowney comes up.
"We're going to continue," the senior said. "We've got guys on our team that are ready to show that we can make a name for ourselves. We have guys that are going to step up and take those leadership roles and make those plays. We're not going to fall off. We're going to get better."