COLUMBIA — South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney has taken out a $5 million insurance policy to protect himself financially during the Gamecocks' 2013 season.
The All-American defensive end used Twitter to laugh off discussions last month about whether he should sit out the year and not risk injury, but he apparently has been seriously thinking about his NFL future.
Several analysts say the 6-foot-6 Clowney would be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft if he were eligible. That led to questions whether Clowney should consider not playing and avoid possibly suffering an injury that might ruin his draft status.
Clowney said there was never a doubt he would play, but he did use the NCAA's "Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Program" that permits qualifying athletes in football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and ice hockey, to take out a loan to help finance the cost of an insurance policy, which they must repay upon signing a pro contract.
Clowney confirmed Thursday that he had the $5 million policy, but did not say he was concerned about being injured.
The $5 million is the maximum amount allowed and NCAA spokesman Chris Radford has said such policies cost about $30,000. Radford said between 75 and 100 athletes take advantage of the program annually— about 80 percent of those are football players.
"Nah, I wouldn't sit out," Clowney said following practice. "I want to go ahead and play."
Clowney had an up-close view of how injuries can derail a prospective NFL career. Teammate Marcus Lattimore was a consensus first-round pick until a gruesome injury against Tennessee dislocated his right knee and tore several ligaments, leaving the players draft status for next month up in the air.
Clowney said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward met with him and his parents, urging the player to keep going as hard as he has his first two seasons at South Carolina.
"It's not hard" to do that, Clowney said. "I'm just going to keep rolling and coming at you."
Clowney has rolled over opponents his first two seasons, collecting 21 sacks with the Gamecocks. He was the Southeastern Conference's freshman of the year in 2011, then won the Hendricks Award this past fall as the nation's top defensive end. He was sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and began a campaign for this year's award with his devastating hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith — Clowney dislodged Smith's helmet before using one hand to recover the fumble — at the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.
Clowney also has bulked up, adding nearly 20 pounds from the start of last season and now weighs 273. He said he ran a 4.54-second time in the 40-yard dash during offseason workouts.
"I put on a few pounds and I'm still running at the same speed," he said. "So that's pretty good."
Clowney was as surprised as anyone when he became a national focus. Friends and teammates began calling and texting, telling Clowney the opinion he should skip this season, train like crazy without the danger of a football injury and be ready for 2014 when he'd make about $22 million as the NFL's top pick.
"I'd go crazy if I sat out," he said. "So I didn't pay any more attention to it after that."
Clowney was back on the practice field when the Gamecocks opened spring drills this week. He says his goals this fall are to surpass the 13 sacks he recorded last fall. He's only eight sacks away from matching South Carolina's alltime mark set by Eric Norwood. "I want more sacks and to try and lead my team to more wins, really," Clowney said.
The Gamecocks have gone 11-2 in Clowney's two seasons, a first in program history. The hype has already started: Clowney's appeared on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN was on campus Tuesday for South Carolina's first spring session.
Spurrier has said Clowney's done well so far handling the attention. The sophomore's fairly easy going and enjoys playing football with his teammates, said South Carolina's coach, who'll start his ninth season in charge this fall.
Spurrier also understands the discussion over Clowney won't likely end until his college career does.
"I know it's something people like to talk about," Spurrier said. "That puts South Carolina out there, helps us a little bit, I guess."