ROCK HILL — The crowd gathered in South Pointe High School's auditorium Monday morning was getting frustrated.
Everyone had come to see Stallions defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's No. 1 player, announce where he would sign to continue his education and football career.
The announcement was delayed because ESPN was broadcasting it live and had to get in a few commercials. During the lull, the students began singing "Happy Birthday" to Clowney, who turned 18 on Monday.
Clowney thanked God and everyone close to him. He walked to a table next to him, where his parents were sitting. In a neat row, a South Carolina hat was on the left, a Clemson hat in the middle and an Alabama hat on the right.
He reach toward the table and before grabbing a hat and said: "I'm headed to the University of . . . South Carolina," which was greeted mostly with cheers - but some boos from a smattering of Clemson fans.
Clowney's announcement ended nearly two weeks of drama. He did not sign on Feb. 2, the first day recruits can sign a letter of intent to play for a school. Speculation about where he might end up had risen to a fevered pitch.
Clowney said if he'd known the signing would become such a "circus," he would have signed on the first day.
He told the crowd it was a "really close" decision. "It was very hard," he said.
"People were coming at me from all different ways."
In the end, he wanted to stay close to home for his mom and friends, and he wanted play with former classmates at South Carolina from South Pointe. Clowney said he needs to get back in the weight room to prepare for the season.
Nearly in tears, his mom, Josenna Clowney, said she's glad her son finally signed because she's tired. Her phone has been ringing continually, reporters have showed up at her front door, and everywhere she went, she was asked where her son was going.
"Maybe I can get some rest," she said.
"I want him to go to school, get his degree and enjoy the rest of his life."
Clowney plans to start for the Gamecocks right away and make an immediate impact.
When asked if all the hype surrounding him being the No. 1 player in the country would be hard to live up to, Clowney answered, "No."
"I want to lead South Carolina to a national championship," he said. "I'm going there to play and to make plays as soon as I step on the field. I really looked at Clemson because they signed so many good players. And my mom liked Clemson. I told her I might go there.
"And Alabama, I liked it there but it was a long way and I wanted to get back home when I was there. Besides, my mom doesn't like to fly. That's why I didn't chose Alabama. I want to be here so my family and friends can come see me play."
The opportunity to play with former South Pointe teammates DeVonte Holloman and Stephon Gilmore, as well as current classmate Gerald Dixon played a big role in his decision. And he has talked to last year's USC freshman sensation, running back Marcus Lattimore.
Keeping the state's top players within the borders of South Carolina has become a priority for Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier and Tigers coach Dabo Sweeney. South Carolina has signed the last three S.C. Mr. Football winners: Gilmore, Lattimore and Clowney.
"Marcus told me to have fun and pick the school I liked best," Clowney said. "South Carolina has always been up there. I have a good relationship with (assistant head coach and defensive coordinator) Ellis Johnson and most people knew I was going there.
"I made my mind up a week ago but kept it a secret. I picked South Carolina because I want to play with my friends. Gerald (G.) Dixon is going there, and I want to play with them boys."
Gerald G. Dixon played the opposite end from Clowney at South Pointe. His half brother, Gerald Dixon Jr., played for rival Northwestern. All three signed with South Carolina. The first time all three played together was in this year's Shrine Bowl All-Star Game.
After the three were sent in to play together, North Carolina faced a third-and-32. Clowney was named South Carolina's defensive MVP.
Bobby Carroll, who coached Clowney at South Pointe before moving to York this year, has maintained for weeks that he believed Clowney would end up in Columbia.
Carroll said he thinks USC knew they were the leaders for Clowney's services early in the process.
"I think they knew they were in on it early because I didn't see them very often," Carroll said. "You'd occasionally get a call or a text from them. I think they knew they had him long before now."
Stories about Clowney have appeared in national publications, including USA Today and The New York Times. He has dominated recruiting websites. It has been common to see him on TV, especially ESPN.
Clowney has been particularly concerned about a story published in The New York Times last week. The article questioned whether Clowney would qualify academically to play Division I football in 2011.
Carroll said he'd bet his paycheck that Clowney will be on the field for the Gamecocks in 2011.
When asked on Monday how the article affected him, Clowney appeared eager to answer.
He started slowly grade-wise as a freshman, but as his chances of playing college football grew, so did his work ethic in class.
"That's all taken care of," he said. "I'll get in."
See video from Clowney's announcement below.