No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney heads to training camp with lofty expectations
Other-worldly expectations are nothing new for Jadeveon Clowney.
They started during his days at South Pointe High School in South Carolina, where scouts fawned over him as college football's consensus top recruit.
They were there at the University of South Carolina, where his 24 career sacks -- and one highlight-reel hit -- catapulted him on to the national radar.
And they've followed him to Houston, where the Texans hope the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft is the piece that brings them back to the playoffs.
So how does a 6-5, 266-pounder with 4.53 40 speed and freakish athleticism handle the hype? The same way that helped him get to where he is today.
"You just have to go out there and play,'' Clowney said Friday in Manhattan during a break in filming a commercial for Vita Coco coconut water. "It's football. It's not a science test or something I hate . . . I've been playing for a while. It's not that hard.''
It's been a little more than two months since Clowney walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall, hugged commissioner Roger Goodell and posed for the cameras with a Texans jersey and cap (though Clowney joked that "it feels like it's been like a whole season'' since then).
That's been more than enough time for those lofty expectations to set in again. Clowney was billed during the pre-draft as a can't-miss prospect, a once-in-a-generation franchise player with tantalizing upside. Adding him to a front seven that already featured former Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and former Pro Bowler Brian Cushing further excited a fan base that saw its team go 2-14 in 2013.
But even though Clowney knows how to deal with the pressure to perform on big stages, he's approaching his first NFL training camp like any other rookie.
"Training camp is about getting better and finding out who really wants to be out there, who really wants to play this game,'' he said. "A lot of cuts are going to happen in training camp, and you don't want to be the one to get cut. So you better go hard.''
Of course, the chances that the Texans would cut the No. 1 overall pick are infinitesimal. But Clowney still faces a bit of a learning curve.
For one, he starred at defensive end at South Carolina, but the Texans will convert him to outside linebacker to better fit their two-gap defense.
"For JD, he's learning a little bit of a new position right now,'' Texans coach Bill O'Brien said during OTAs in late May. "We'll incorporate him back into some of the things he did in college, but right now we're teaching the 3-4 and he's having to learn a whole new position.''
To complicate things, Clowney has been sidelined since mid-June after undergoing sports hernia surgery, and he has yet to be cleared to return. Clowney hopes to be ready for the start of camp but said he'll let the training staff decide.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time,'' he said of his recovery.
In the meantime, Clowney has been doing whatever he can to adapt to the pro game, including talking with fellow Texans defender and former Gamecocks safety D.J. Swearinger.
Said Clowney: "He tells me all the time, 'It's the NFL. It's not college anymore.' ''