The questions Clowney can't elude

Jadeveon Clowney

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There is a hill, nestled in an industrial park, where Jadeveon Clowney ran up and down until his body could take no more, and then he dropped to the ground and did power push-ups. Evidence of this is gone; the footprints have been washed away by the spring rain, but fear not, Clowney was here, on the hill and in a nearby gym, working hard. Check out the barbells inside. Clowney's sweaty fingerprints were all over them. And when his training sessions were over, Clowney asked if he could do more, but he was told no, because that was too much.

Jed Hartigan, a boyish-looking stubbly-faced trainer who owns Velocity Sports Performance in Charlotte, says Clowney "trained his ass off" during their sessions in this long spring of discontent leading up to the NFL draft. While anonymous NFL execs were tearing Clowney down in various media outlets, calling him lazy and spoiled in the media, Hartigan was building him up. 

Hartigan has trained numerous professional football players, but Clowney's different. He's been called a once-in-a-generation player, a genetic freak of nature. For weeks, fans traveled for miles in their red-and-black South Carolina Gamecocks gear just to watch the ballyhooed pass-rusher jump rope. He is under heavy scrutiny, and Clowney's camp isn't leaving anything to chance.

When his agent, Bus Cook, sent him to Hartigan to help him prepare for his April 2 pro day, his instructions were precise. Clowney had to weigh 266 pounds, not a pound heavier or he might have been deemed fat and out of shape; not a pound lighter, because then the whispers would focus on how Clowney wasn't lifting enough weights.

"We wanted to make sure everything was perfect," Hartigan said, "just because of what was said about his work ethic and his conditioning. We wanted to make sure he was in phenomenal shape just to shut up the critics."

Clowney, Hartigan says, isn't an outwardly talkative guy. He likes to smile and joke around, and maybe that makes him come across as being lackadaisical. But he's prideful. Sometimes, when Clowney would be gassed, Hartigan reminded him of how many coaches would be watching him on pro day, how many cameras would be covering it live, and how embarrassing it would be if he vomited in front of them or had to quit.

"That's not going to happen," he'd say.

Blame it on the NFL for pushing back this year's draft two weeks, and the fact that there's nothing else to talk about until May 8. Blame South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who stirred the pot a bit in February when he called Clowney's work ethic just "OK." But maybe the only one you can blame for this whole mess is Clowney for drawing too much attention to himself.

He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a 19-year-old sophomore, a rarity for a defensive player. Then there was the hit, on New Year's Day 2013, that has been replayed so many times it almost seems redundant to type. Clowney exploded into the Michigan backfield in the Outback Bowl and hit running back Vincent Smith with such force that it jarred Smith's helmet off his head. From that day on, stories about Clowney's athletic prowess flowed like sweet tea at a Carolina barbecue.

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