SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The first day of practice at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, which pits the best players from North Carolina and South Carolina, was supposed to be about all the attention being paid to the nation's No. 1 player, Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. However, everyone discovered one thing that could one-up the 6-foot-6, 247-pounder when it comes to stealing attention - Mother Nature. The severe cold and wind Monday in Spartanburg, S.C., was as big a story as Clowney.
"I can't wait to get to the locker room," said Clowney immediately after the first practice session of the day. "I've never felt cold like this, everything is frozen. I just want to get to where it's warm."
The temperature at Spartanburg High School varied between 28-32 degrees for the morning session, but 20-25 mph wind made it feel closer to single digits. Things got a little better in the afternoon as the wind died down, but it was still frigid.
"Your feet and toes are frozen, you can't wear enough layers and you can't move around enough in practice on the first day to stay warm," said Clowney, who had everything but his eyes covered. "The first practice was like going through the motions, you're just getting used to the cold."
So it's no surprise, to the dismay of Ohio State fans, that Clowney's top five schools are all located in the South.
"LSU, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida State and Clemson," said Clowney when asked to name his top five. "I don't have a leader."
Sources have said that South Carolina is the team to beat followed by Alabama and the rest. Clowney didn't confirm such rumors, but he did say that his best visit was to Columbia so far.
"I had fun down there. Even though they lost, they showed me a good time down there," he said of his trip on the weekend of Nov. 5. "I learned a lot about the school."
Clowney will visit Alabama the weekend of Jan. 14, a week after his scheduled official visit to Florida State (Jan. 7). Clemson and LSU will likely get official visits the following two weekends before a decision on National Signing Day. Clemson is getting a visit out of in-state respect according to most, and Alabama remains the biggest threat. But the Gamecocks are in very good shape right now with Clowney, his teammate Gerald Dixon and Dixon's half-brother Gerald Dixon, Jr..
Meanwhile, as far as the attention paid to the nation's No. 1 player, Clowney downplays it.
"It's fun actually," he said. "I'm having fun with all of these guys out here. A lot of guys talk and even our head coach (Mickey Moss) was calling me out a few times this morning, but it's all in good fun. Our goal is to work hard, practice hard and hopefully win the game."
Clowney did suffer a couple of injuries on the day. In the morning, he had what appeared to be a stinger in his shoulder, but he only missed a few reps of practice. In the afternoon he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the rest of practice. Clowney will see how it feels Tuesday morning before a decision is made about practice.
When he was healthy and on the field, Clowney had his moments of being unstoppable. On a few occasions he split an attempted double team between the tackle and the tight end. He beat solo blocking fairly consistently despite being forced to play on the tackle rather than with an outside edge.
"I don't like this defense, the 3-4," he said of the defense the SC team is playing. "I play head over the tackle. That's part of the rules so you have to follow the rules. I like to make plays off the edge."
Despite his discomfort, Clowney was so dominant at one point in the afternoon that Moss yelled out to his offensive line asking if anyone wanted to block the talented end. Overall, it was a busy day for the top prospect the Carolinas have produced in decades. A busy day and a cold one.
MARQUISE THE MYSTERY MAN
In addition to Clowney, many eyes were on Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek quarterback Marquise Williams, who has been the subject of numerous recruiting rumors over the last couple weeks.
Williams, a 6-foot-3, 218-pounder, has been committed to North Carolina since July. Since the Tar Heels have been under investigation by the NCAA for numerous reasons, he has been in contact with other schools. Williams took an official visit to Michigan and Virginia Tech in October and an official to N.C. State in November. He also took another visit to Blacksburg to see the Hokies with teammate, friend and current Virginia Tech commitment Kevin Asante and was rumored to be committed to Frank Beamer and his staff by the end of his trip.
Since that visit, Williams has been careful to avoid the media. However, he did numerous interviews at the Shrine Bowl and said he is still committed to North Carolina for now and will make his final decision after Christmas. Williams wants to enroll at the school of his choice early, so a final decision is due by the end of the month.
This one will be interesting down the stretch. North Carolina needs Williams in this class badly, especially after Myrtle Beach (S.C.) dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson de-committed for Notre Dame. But Virginia Tech has put on the full-court press, including taking his buddy and top target at Mallard Creek in Asante. Many sources in the Charlotte area feel that Williams could still flip to the Hokies while confidence is remains high in Chapel Hill. Stay tuned.
A GOOD FIT
While Williams figures out what school is the best fit for him, Golson is happy with the switch from North Carolina to Notre Dame.
"I like that it's a spread offense and they are going to throw the ball a lot," he said. "It fits my style a bit better and they want the quarterback to be mobile and be able to make throws outside the pocket so that's also good for me. I think it's just the best fit in the end for me."
However, Golson wasn't unhappy with his original choice of North Carolina. But when the NCAA started coming to Chapel Hill regularly, it allowed him a chance to look around a bit.
"I guess you could say it was an opportunity that I didn't expect," he said. "I like North Carolina and the coaches, but I needed to make sure I didn't close myself off to anything else when everything started coming down. And then when I saw Notre Dame, spoke to the coaches, met the players and really took a long look at everything, it was the perfect situation."
Even though the Irish have many young quarterbacks on the roster, including three in the 2010 recruiting class, Golson is confident.
"Everywhere you go you'll have to compete," he said. "That's just part of college football. Those guys are all good players and they are all new to the system like I will be so I'm looking forward to it."
And as far as basketball, Golson was planning on playing hoops at North Carolina as well as football. Will he play both sports in South Bend as well?
"That's the plan," he said. "It's funny because coach (Mike) Brey was recruiting me for basketball even before coach (Brian) Kelly started to recruit me for football so I'll do both there as well."
Despite the frosty conditions, several players stood out on the day. On the South Carolina side, Clowney was dominant when he was on the field and Goose Creek offensive tackle Brandon Shell was the most impressive on his side of the line. Shell played right tackle and Wren tackle Shaq Anthony played left tackle and had his moments despite being dominated at times by Clowney. Mauldin offensive linemanRyan Norton showed off his ability at center, although he struggled at times with Manning defensive tackle Phillip Dukes.
Marlboro County linebacker Lateek Townsend was easily the most physical player on the SC team, often tackling players despite consistent orders to stay up. Spartanburg cornerback Ronnie Martin looked as if he felt at home and was the best in coverage all day.
Golson showed the most zip on his ball despite the wind and has a strong arm for a smaller quarterback. Despite his 6-foot, 170-pound frame, Golson threw a consistent tight spiral and was accurate. Running back Shon Carson from Lake City showed good cutback ability and receivers Shamier Jeffery (Calhoun County) and Charone Peake (Dorman) both had consistent efforts. Irmo's David Frazier was also solid at wide receiver.
On the North Carolina side, while the quarterbacks struggled, wide receiver T.J. Thorpe from Jordan was very explosive, showed good hands and made some big plays. Jack Britt tight end Eric MacLain wasn't thrown to in the morning but made a few nice catches in the afternoon. Wake Forest-Rolesville offensive lineman Dylan Intemann was the best of his group during the day.
However, the North Carolina defense was clearly the strength of the team, at least on day one. Defensive tackle Shawn Underwood from Fuquay Varina has reshaped his body, dropping 40 pounds since the spring and adding muscle, and he was very active all day. Defensive backs Juston Burris from Broughton and Domonique Noble from West Rowan made some big plays and were excellent in coverage.
However, the linebackers were clearly dominant. Anson stud Stephone Anthony made many big plays in the morning, Butler 'backer Kris Frost was flying off the edge all day and A.C. Reynolds standout Ben Councell showed his versatility by lining up close to the line of scrimmage and also dropping into coverage. White Oak's Tremayne McNair was also impressive, especially in coverage. Councell and McNair both had interceptions during the afternoon practice on great reads and McNair had a batted pass that also nearly turned into a turnover.
ODDS AND ENDS
In addition to Clowney, a few others were treated at times for injuries during the first day of practice. Dukes had an apparent leg injury looked at for a short time but he returned quickly. Dixon (not Dixon Jr.) also had his arm looked at but returned quickly. On the North Carolina side, Jack Britt Devonte Brown practiced in the morning but missed the afternoon practice with turf toe and it is unclear when he will return.
Jeffery took a few turns throwing the ball, mainly because South Carolina's third quarterback was struggling with the strong winds. Jeffery looked sharp on the few passes he threw but returned to wide receiver quickly.
Of the big four quarterbacks (Williams and Vad Lee for North Carolina; Golson and Justin Worley for South Carolina), Worley struggled the most with the wind. He tends to push the ball when he throws and a few of his passes got caught in the wind. However, the wind played a part in all four quarterbacks struggling at times, with Golson putting in the best performance.
Frost may want a shot to play wide receiver in college, but it's clear that his aggressive nature, leadership and enthusiasm are made for the defensive side of the ball. If he plays wide out in college, it will be a shame because he projects as a special linebacker.
Right now it looks like North Carolina offensive line commitment Jarrod James from Aycock will be playing left tackle in the game. Why is that important? James will need to go head-to-head with Clowney throughout the game and he projects more as a guard for UNC due to a shoulder condition. It will be interesting to see how he handles an elite rush end in space. Unfortunately Shell and Clowney didn't get to square off for South Carolina in practice as they were on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage with Shell playing right tackle.
A few guys looked a bit smaller than expected. Dukes doesn't look as big as listed, there's no way Brandon Ellerbe is near 6-foot-1 and Golson is closer to 5-foot-10 than his listed 6-foot. Sherman Ragland is also shorter than his 6-foot-1 listed size. As for guys who looked better than expected, Underwood was great, Towsend is filling out very well at linebacker and Intemann also impressed.