Spurrier Jr.: ‘What a special group’
ORLANDO, Fla. — Standing on stage, Connor Shaw was straight-faced as ever.
The senior quarterback had just finished his last collegiate game and was being named its most valuable player. Already South Carolina’s winningest quarterback, Shaw notched one last victory against No. 19 Wisconsin, throwing for three touchdowns, running for one and catching another at the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Fans chanted his name. Coach Steve Spurrier stood by him, shouting the praises of Shaw and his teammates. Shaw stood quietly, clutching his shoulder pads. And then he dropped his guard.
“I’m so proud of this program — my boys!” he shouted, smiling briefly and pointing to a group of his teammates standing nearby.
A few minutes later, star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney walked downfield, surrounded by a scrum of media, championship trophy in hand. He gave interviews, signed autographs and walked into the stands twice to greet fans. Later, he’d have to be pulled away from a throng of fans, forced to get on the team bus.
His performance in the bowl reflected the season it capped: He was disruptive, but not on paper. Clowney finished the game with five tackles, tied for fifth on the team. It matched his season high.
Ask coaches and teammates, and they’re quick to say the impact of Shaw and Clowney — two of the best players South Carolina has ever fielded — has been huge.
But as the moments after the Capital One Bowl reflected, their differences have been equally prominent.
It’s the difference between the sort of celebrity air with Clowney that makes speeding tickets national news and the sort of consistency from Shaw that’s made him a regular feature on lists of underrated players.
“What Connor’s done, how he’s done it, the leader he’s been, the games he’s won, the win streak at home — we will miss him,” co-offensive coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “We really will.”
Before the game, the elder Spurrier alluded to Clowney’s rock star status.
“He’s been a very good teammate for three years. We were all wondering if he’s got a limo to take him out of the ballpark tomorrow or not,” Spurrier said. “He’ll be an instant pro when the game’s over.”
Still, neither has had a particularly easy path to stardom.
Shaw, a mostly unheralded recruit from northern Georgia, waited in the wings for years before opening his senior year in a quarterback controversy, fighting off calls for his replacement.
Against Missouri last year, with the season on the line, he became the stuff of South Carolina legend, putting injury aside for an improbable comeback victory in double overtime. Against Wisconsin, he cemented it with arguably his best outing in a South Carolina uniform.
Clowney, who in high school announced his commitment to South Carolina live on national TV, opened with a pair of explosive seasons and capped off his freshman and sophomore years with an instant classic, ESPN-favorite “The Hit.”
Then he made headlines again in 2013, this time by recording a middling season. His successes were always expected; his falters were not.
“Who had the better Saturday night, or the easier Saturday night? That was Connor Shaw,” university President Harris Pastides said. “He was always surpassing expectations, and Jadeveon was trying to meet them.”
In their time, the pair also set expectations — for what a South Carolina football team could be.
Along with three other departing juniors and four other seniors, Clowney and Shaw heralded a golden age of South Carolina football. Three consecutive 11-win seasons. Five straight wins against Clemson. Forty-one wins in four years. A No. 4 finish nationally.
“What a special group — a small, small group — that is,” Spurrier Jr. said.