The front window of The College Shoppe says it all about what is important in Rock Hill today.
There are two University of South Carolina Gamecocks football jerseys, both bearing the number 7. A handwritten sign reads: “May 8, 8 p.m. Good Luck!”
No name is needed because number 7 at USC is a name known by all who are not living in Mongolia. Number 7 is Jadeveon Clowney, the star football player who grew up in Rock Hill.
He was the best high school player in America, then among the best college players, and tonight he is expected to be among the first players – if not the very first player – selected in the 2014 National Football League draft.
“This is all very exciting and thrilling for Rock Hill,” said Marisa Bailey, manager of The College Shoppe, which sells sports clothes and anything else connected to sports and colleges.
This week, like most weeks, the Clowney jersey is the only one that really matters.
“Clowney is one of our own, one of us,” Bailey said. “His mother buys things right here from me!”
Other sporting goods stores in Rock Hill sell their share of Number 7 licensed Gamecock jerseys. The name “Clowney” does not appear on them.
But everyone knows Number 7 is Clowney. Kids, teachers, even old ladies know Clowney.
At Hibbett Sports at the Rock Hill Galleria, just two Number 7 jerseys were left. Dozens sold in the last few days as the city prepares for an NFL draft watch party at South Pointe High School – Clowney’s alma mater. Dick’s Sporting Goods also had the jerseys. The first thing a shopper sees through the big front doors at Academy Sports are Number 7 Clowney jerseys. White or garnet, take your pick. Buy both. They are on sale.
Clowney is everywhere – as he should be.
Tonight on national TV, live from New York City, Clowney will walk onto the Radio City Music Hall stage with his mother and grandfather from humble Carolina Avenue in Rock Hill. His mother had to take time off from working the production line at a Charlotte potato chip factory to be there. For 20 years, she worked nights and weekends so her son could get to this moment.
There is a yellow school bus that drops off elementary school kids along Flint Hill Street and Carolina Avenue in Rock Hill. It is a neighborhood of small homes and big dreams. The same driver has driven that bus for so many years that she will not say how many years because then people will know her age.
But bus driver Ann Burris knows what this draft means. Her son, Jeff Burris, also was a first-round pick. Twenty years ago, Jeff Burris, who played for Notre Dame – yes, Notre Dame, the golden dome and Touchdown Jesus and all that – was selected by the Buffalo Bills.
Jeff Burris played a decade in the NFL and now is a coach with the Miami Dolphins. But before that, and still today, he is Ann Burris’ son. She is a mother, and mothers are proud. She is still a bus driver, a mother to every child on her bus.
“Jeff was telling me that Rock Hill should be proud of Jadeveon Clowney, and he is right,” Ann Burris said. “He is a fine young man and we all have to remember, he is young. We need to let him enjoy this and be young. We also need to celebrate him.”
Ann Burris, after that NFL draft 20 years ago, went back to work before dawn the next day. She drove along Carolina Avenue, right past the house where a baby named Jadeveon had just turned 1 on Valentine’s Day 1994, already too big for any crib in the little house.
That baby is now 6 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 275 pounds and is expected by many to be the first to hear his name called on draft night. He will be paid millions of dollars to play football.
He can sell himself as a professional. He will have endorsements for football cleats and underwear and hair products because of his long dreadlocks. He will get toothpaste endorsements for that huge, dazzling smile. Whatever jersey number Clowney gets will not bear the number 7. Defensive ends get certain numbers. Clowney’s number will be in the 90s, almost assuredly.
But that jersey – probably a Houston Texans jersey, since that team has the first pick tonight – will be an immediate huge seller, because it will be the first Clowney NFL jersey.
But as Ann Burris said as she strode to her school bus Wednesday afternoon to drive it down Carolina Avenue past the Clowney house: “We in Rock Hill all know that Jadeveon Clowney’s true number is Number 1.”