ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay said earlier this week that South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney may have been the most schemed-against player he’d ever evaluated.
Zeek Rodney might be one of the few to know how his role model and former South Pointe Stallion Clowney has felt this season.
The South Pointe senior defensive lineman, practicing this week with the South Carolina Shrine Bowl squad, saw a hefty drop in statistical production this season – 12 sacks and 16 tackles-for-loss after 26 and 27 in 2012 – in large part because of a gimpy hamstring that hampered his explosiveness in the first half of the season, and also because of what could be called “the Clowney effect,” in which offensive coordinators completely avoid a defender’s side of the field because of their disruptive natures.
“At the beginning of the year we just didn’t play him very much,” said South Pointe head coach Strait Herron. “Every chance we had to get him off the field, we would take him off because we wanted him to get healed by the time we got to region. That’s probably the biggest reason why his numbers weren’t as good, plus teams were game-planning against him.”
There wasn’t much Rodney could do about double team blocking or teams avoiding him altogether. There also wasn’t much he could do about his hamstring, which first flared up during summer workouts, other than relentless treatment. Rodney visited the training room before and after every practice, using heat pads and muscle stimulation treatment to try to heal the twanged strip of tendons in the back of his right leg.
“It bothered me for awhile, for about five weeks, but I just wanted to keep playing and help my team anyway I could,” he said Tuesday after Shrine Bowl practice at Spartanburg High School. “I know I wasn’t a hundred percent and I couldn’t make all the plays that I would’ve made if I was 100 percent, but I just made as many plays as I can.”
That Rodney still produced a season that would’ve been a career highlight for most prep players speaks to not just his baseline ability, but to his gut fortitude for trucking through an annoying injury so limiting that it has its own adjective: “hamstrung.”
“Every time he gets on the field, he’s gonna play as hard as he can play,” said Herron. “He knew he still had some work to do as far as getting recruited, and of course he didn’t want to let his teammates down, so he did exactly what we asked him to do.”
Tuesday found Rodney in a jovial mood, as he soaks up this week with the Shrine Bowl squad. He’s getting to know South Carolina teammates he only previously recognized as names on recruiting lists, while savoring a first taste of college-like football.
“I’m meeting a lot of the top high school players in the state; I’ve made some new friends,” Rodney said. “I thought they were gonna be all stuck up and stuff, but they’re all good. Everybody clowning, everybody getting along.”
Dexter Wideman and Lowcountry cousins K.J. and Poona Ford, from Bluffton and Hilton Head, were the three that had most caught Rodney’s eye. Wideman, a Florida State commitment from Saluda High School, is especially hard to miss with his bubbly personality and unnervingly loud grunts as he attacks the quarterback.
“He’s a lot like me,” said Rodney, before adding, “I haven’t been talking really.”
Like many of the players, Rodney was getting used to so many new experiences in such a short period of time. Included in that is the caliber of competition in practice.
“This is the best offensive line I’ve ever played against,” he said. “It’s just competition all the time trying to get each other better for Saturday.”
Rodney was late getting up to Spartanburg last weekend because he had to take the ACT Saturday.
“My grades are coming along good,” he said. “I should be fine.”
He said he hasn’t heard from Boston College’s coaching staff in a while, but coaches from Syracuse, Marshall, Ball State and Charlotte have been constant presences at South Pointe, while Wake Forest is also slated to stop by soon. Coaches from the Football Bowl Subdivision are prohibited from visiting Shrine Bowl activities, an NCAA decree, but many of them will see Saturday’s game via the Internet or a DVD copy.
“I’m just gonna do the best I can,” said Rodney. “I know I don’t have the height or size, but I know I’ve got to make up for my height with energy and motor and just try to fly around and get to the ball.”
Rodney never stops chasing the football, because he knows he can’t.
“No, he doesn’t stop,” confirmed South Carolina Shrine Bowl head coach Tommy Brown with a grin. “He’s quick, he’s got a great motor. It’s gonna be interesting to see whether they’re gonna be able to block him with one person. We don’t think they can, and hopefully he can make some plays and cause some problems. He’s done that for the last three or four years.”
Amidst the post-practice merriment Tuesday, Rodney seemed to grasp the situation. The urgency was there for a player who always feels he has something to prove.
“This is my last high school game,” he said, sounding less like a high schooler and more like a collegian.
In this important final prep performance, Rodney is glad to have two full-strength hamstrings and less of the blocking attention he garnered all season long.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T