-- Jadeveon Clowney is widely regarded as the top-ranked prospect for May's NFL draft despite being limited to three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss last season.
The former South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end says there's a reason for the lofty status.
Clowney, speaking in an interview with Yahoo! Sports, asserts he maintained a hard work ethic throughout the season despite any perceptions to the contrary, pegging the downward trend in his individual statistics -- he recorded a team-record 13.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore -- on the attention opposing teams were giving him.
"When I walked into the meeting rooms, all my coaches said, 'You're playing' and 'Keep playing hard,' " Clowney told the website. "If you watch our tapes, everybody can see I'm playing hard. Guys that don't know anything. ... People expect me to get five sacks, 10 tackles for loss every game, but that wasn't going to happen the way teams were playing me.
"I'm taking 80 snaps a game, all our snaps per game, I'm playing them all. Coaches were like, 'Keep playing the way you play. We love the way you play.' "
The 6-foot-6, 274-pound Clowney was held to three-year lows in sacks and tackles for loss in 2013. But he overcame some early speed bumps to earn first-team All-SEC honors a year after being voted unanimously to the All-America team and finishing sixth in Heisman Trophy voting.
Clowney said criticism directed toward him, especially early in the season, was unwarranted.
"I kind of laughed at it," Clowney told Yahoo! Sports. "People are going to say what they want to say. I bet half of the people that are talking can't play football. They just see what they see, or don't know nothing about the game. I just get a laugh out of it.
"(My thought was) just keep winning football games. They're going to keep talking. We're going to keep winning games and try to win the SEC East. That was one of our goals this year. We fell short, but finishing No. 4 in the country has to be the best finish in South Carolina history."
That ranking was the Gamecocks' top finish. And it came after South Carolina beat Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl, a game in which Clowney was mostly a nonfactor.
Clowney also said he played through pain caused by bone spurs in his ankle for most of the season.
"Right now, they're feeling great, but during the season, it was bothering me a lot," Clowney said. "That's just something you have to face. Sometimes it's going to be like that. You have to have your back up against the wall in tough times and fight through it. I was fighting through it for my teammates, South Carolina and my fans."