Where it all began, Demons youth football program retires Clowney’s No. 32 jersey

Jadeveon Clowney holds his original Sylvia Circle Demons jersey Saturday in a ceremony to retire his number. 6-20-2015.
Jadeveon Clowney holds his original Sylvia Circle Demons jersey Saturday in a ceremony to retire his number. 6-20-2015. Special to The Herald

Sylvia Circle is a small school off Saluda Road in Rock Hill that has produced big talent.

Last year, the Demons football program retired the jersey of former player Chris Hope, who was an All-American at Rock Hill, a national champion at Florida State, and a Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Saturday, at the end of the Demons Football Skills Camp, the program added the second member to its Ring of Honor, retiring the No. 32 jersey of former Demon and current Houston Texan Jadeveon Clowney.

NFL player Jadeveon Clowney's youth football jersey was retired Saturday, June 20 by the Sylvia Circle Demons in Rock Hill.

Clowney was a South Pointe Stallion, South Carolina Gamecock, and the No. 1. overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft by the Texans.

Unlike some when they make it big, Clowney said he did see this day coming.

“I can say I did,” Clowney said. “I said that one day that was going to be me up there on that stage giving a speech to a bunch of kids that look up to me. And all of a sudden I’m here and it’s happening right now for me.”

Typically, high school, college, or the pro teams retiring jerseys, but Demons coaches Perry Sutton and Pat Kennedy, who have been with the program 27 and 28 years, respectively, decided it was important to do it at a younger level.

“We saw Chris Hope and Gerald Dixon’s jerseys at Rock Hill High, the guys at Northwestern, and South Pointe is building a legacy,” Sutton said. “But there was no one central location where we could honor all these football players all at once.”

Sutton said they too knew that Clowney was special, but they didn’t know how special.

“Nobody foresaw him being the No, 1 pick back then,” Sutton said. “We just want to get kids ready for college. The NFL is just a plus.”

The committee that decides which jerseys will be retired meets annually. Sutton said they already have several names in mind for next year.

The Skills Camp ran from Thursday night through Saturday with a 7-on-7 tournament. Clowney signed autographs for kids and posed for pictures Saturday. He also helped present awards including the first Jadeveon Clowney Award to the top camper for this year which went to Braylon Robinson.

Clowney missed much of his first NFL season to injuries. He is hoping to return to form for the start of this season and join a defense that includes 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Jonathan Joseph, of Northwestern, and also a former Gamecock. Joseph just signed a three-year extension this week. Those two along with Hope are just a few of several players from the city who have gone on to successful college and even NFL careers.

“I guess it’s something in the water,” Clowney said. “But since we were smaller, at a younger age, kids just strive to play football and see other guys doing it. And they just want to be great at it. I think that drives a lot of kids around here to see other guys going to the NFL.”

Sutton said the success of others breeds more success.

“Kids, because we have so many that make it, they believe that it is attainable because they can see it. The big story is how many go to college from here. The city has about 40 in college right now and we have about 10 from here. That is an incredible feat.”

This may not be the last of Clowney’s jersey retirement ceremonies, but it is definitely a special one that will rank high on his list of accomplishments.

“It means a lot to me,” Clowney said. “Growing up I was in their shoes sitting down and watching other people tell me the same thing. And it kept me motivated to keep going and keep playing, and I just want to motivate other kids to want to do better for their self and for their family.”

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald