Memories of Clowney heading into pro day

The first time I saw Jadeveon Clowney play football in person he was a freshman defensive lineman at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C. That also was the last time I saw my youngest son, then a freshman at Fort Mill High, play quarterback.

The two are connected.

On what my son says was a busted play, he took off running to get what he could. Clowney took off running, too. A man among boys back then, he sent my freshman hard to the ground with cracked ribs and a back injury that still gives him issues.

He never played quarterback again, and for all practical purposes never played football again.

"I did all that? Oh, man!" Clowney recently told me during an interview as part of a promotion for Gillette.

I'll get my second look at Clowney in person Wednesday at the University of South Carolina pro day in Columbia, where the 6-foot-6, 266-pound defensive end will try to convince the Houston Texans he should be the first pick of the May draft.

Clowney wants to be the first pick just as he was the top college prospect coming out of Southside. He's not worried about those who question his work ethic, saying, "People are going to say whatever they want."

Clowney's mom may secretly want her son to play for the Carolina Panthers. She has been a fan of the NFL team that is about 30 minutes from Rock Hill for a long time.

But the Panthers have no shot at Clowney with the 28th pick. And even if they were to trade into the top two or three -- which they won't -- they already are stacked at end with Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.

"It would be fun," Clowney said of playing so close to home. "But I don't think I'll be down that far."

He won't. He shouldn't fall outside of the top three.

Clowney didn't grow up a Carolina fan, but he did study former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.

Peppers and Clowney are similar in build. Peppers also had a reputation for not having the best work ethic coming out of the University of North Carolina in 2002.

The Texans, coincidentally, had the top pick that year as well. They passed on Peppers and took quarterback David Carr, who went on to become one of the biggest quarterback draft busts of the past 30 years.

The Panthers got Peppers at No. 2. He had three sacks in his second NFL game and finished his rookie season with 12 to win the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

He made the Pro Bowl five times during his eight-year career at Carolina, where his 81 sacks remain a team record.

The Texans once again are debating whether to take a quarterback or perhaps Clowney.

Clowney has the same type of potential as Peppers. He wowed coaches with a 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. That's faster than all but Washington's Robert Griffin III among current starting quarterbacks.

Clowney likes to compare his style to DeMarcus Ware, who had 117 career sacks with the Dallas Cowboys before being signed by the Denver Broncos during free agency. But his work ethic will be debated following a junior season in which he had only three sacks after collecting 21 in his first two years.

"In my heart, I'm No. 1 in the draft," Clowney said.

He definitely was the best player on the field the first time I saw him in person.