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Clowney's grandfather: Greatness runs in the family

On television tonight, America will watch the first college game of the nation's top football recruit - Rock Hill's Jadeveon Clowney.

Tens of thousands of people will be in Charlotte to watch the game in person, most of them screaming and cheering for the greatness of this young man who started out as a kid from a little house on Carolina Avenue that spawned such big dreams.

Jadeveon will not be the only great man named Clowney on hand when the University of South Carolina Gamecocks take on East Carolina University.

His 83-year-old grandfather, John Clowney - from another little house on Carolina Avenue, 42 years working at the Celanese textile mill, 20 years and counting volunteering with his church's feeding of the elderly and sick - will be there.

In the house of John Clowney - paid for by so many years of hard work - the most prized photo of Jadeveon is not of him in a football uniform or on a magazine cover.

It is baby Jadeveon some 17 years ago, smiling, in a galvanized washtub.

The photo is near pictures of the Last Supper, and signs that say "Pray" and "Hope" and "Blessed" and "Love."

"It sure will be some game," said John Clowney, who came off a farm in Chester County as one of 14 children during the days when all poor rural families had to have as many kids as they could so the sharecropping family could get hired to pick cotton on the landowner's farm.

John Clowney would pick cotton after having worked all day at another job. He would give that money to his family to help take care of his brothers and sisters, and he would dream of a life that might be better.

"I am proud that my grandson is in college," John Clowney said. "That he is a fine young man. That he does his school work and works hard at it. I am proud of another grandchild, a granddaughter, who is a senior in college.

"I am proud of all of my children, my grandchildren."

John Clowney did not get to go to much school because of the crush of poverty, so he went to work at a golf course for $9.50 a week. Then he moved to Maryland to find work and escape the limited chances - almost none - of a young black man in the segregated South.

Embracing hard work

But John Clowney is so much more than the product of those days. He was one of the first blacks to work at the Rock Hill Celanese plant when he came back to this area in 1948. John Clowney would work in the physical plant and grounds, and if there was no lunch, he went hungry.

"I believed then, and I believe now, that God would provide," John Clowney said Friday afternoon in the living room of his house, underneath a picture of Jesus Christ.

John Clowney always went to Flint Hill Baptist Church a few blocks away, and still does. Even as the game loomed this week, he did not miss a night of revival at church. He did not miss his volunteer work with the food ministry that feeds so many.

"I am blessed in my life," John Clowney said. "I love to cook. My grandson, he loves to come here and eat what I make for him. And he sure can eat."

That grandson - about to play in such an anticipated college game after a career at South Pointe High School that can only be described as dominant on the field, the focus of so much attention the past year - is 6 feet 6 inches tall, and weighs about 260 pounds.

There is already talk among people who follow sports that John Clowney's grandson might be an NFL star someday. John Clowney wants his grandson to excel in college and study hard to make his mother, Josenna, John Clowney's daughter, proud.

"I want him to do his best, like we have always taught," said John Clowney. "Do your best."

At that game tonight, unlike the 70,000 or so other fans, John Clowney will not scream when Jadeveon Clowney crushes a quarterback or slams a running back.

John Clowney will just nod and beam and, along with his wife, Josephine, pray for the safety of young Jadeveon.

John Clowney will thank God for Jadeveon's chance to play football so well, at this high level, before all of America. To have chances John Clowney never had, but worked hard for just the same for his children and grandchildren.

John Clowney will remember tonight during that game all he had to do in his life, and how he was proud and happy to do it for his church and his family - including that grandson named Jadeveon, who will be watched by a whole country and cheered by so many.

John Clowney would never say so, but he deserves some of those cheers, too.