Heisman candidate Clowney wreaks havoc on offenses

South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is so highly regarded that some folks suggested — apparently seriously — he should sit out this season and bide his time, thus avoiding the risk of injury until he starts cashing NFL paychecks.

“I heard about that a lot. But, nah, I never considered that,” Clowney said. “When I came here as a freshman, I told myself I wanted to do three years.”

SEC opponents marvel at Clowney — and can’t wait to see him go, which he undoubtedly will when he’s eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.

“I’d like to see him come out early (for the draft) — before our game,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp, whose Gators face South Carolina on Nov. 16.

The 6-foot-6, 274-pound Clowney was a unanimous All-American as a sophomore last season, wreaking havoc on opposing offenses with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. He enters this season widely considered a candidate for the Heisman Trophy despite the normally insurmountable disadvantage with voters of being a defensive player.

“Winning the Heisman is not really a big deal for me,” Clowney said, but when asked if he thought he could do it, he replied, “Why not?”

“Winning the SEC championship is a big deal,” he said. “Getting drafted high is a big deal.”

In a league of marquee quarterbacks — Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, et al — a defensive end gets equal star treatment. Clowney seems to revel in it while avoiding Manziel’s penchant for trouble.

“I don’t go to bars,” Clowney said. “The same three guys, I hang with them every day. Stay in the house. You can’t get in trouble in your own house.

“I don’t post pictures. I don’t tweet. I stay off the Internet.”

The spotlight finds him, though.

His jaw-dropping hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl has been viewed 4 million times on YouTube and has come to be known in college-football circles as, simply, The Hit.

On perhaps the signature play of his college career so far, Clowney exploded into the Michigan backfield and crashed into Smith, sending his helmet flying. Then the long-armed Clowney recovered the fumble he forced.

“Have I seen it? Well, wasn’t it like the top play (on ESPN) for two weeks?” Missouri quarterback James Franklin said. “It was crazy. I thought he was going to run it back for a touchdown, too.”

Clowney drew more attention this summer, when he entertained a multitude of media members by good-naturedly claiming that he can see fear in some opposing quarterbacks — including Georgia’s Murray, whom Clowney will face in both teams’ SEC opener Sept. 7 in Athens, and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

And then there was Clowney’s account of running a 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds one morning last month, hours after telling roommate and fellow defensive end Chaz Sutton he would be timed in less than 4.5 seconds.

“He was, like, ‘Man, you ain’t gonna run that,’” Clowney recalled. “So I said, ‘Watch me.’”

Clowney had a better idea than sitting out the season: He took out a $5 million insurance policy through the NCAA to protect against future earnings lost to injury. Now he is intent on maximizing his final collegiate season.

“We don’t have a guy in practice who can block him,” South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw said. “But no one else in the country does either.”

“Individual awards, obviously he’s up for all of them that a defensive lineman can be up for,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “But hopefully the most important thing is helping us win an SEC title. That would be the highlight for all of us if that were to happen.”

Clowney was the nation’s No. 1 recruit when he left South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C. He’d love to be the NFL’s No. 1 pick when he leaves Columbia, S.C.

“Everything that has happened to me is just the greatest thing ever,” Clowney said. “I am blessed to be where I am now.”