COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jadeveon Clowney called it a miscommunication. Steve Spurrier said he and others handled it poorly.
And what that means is South Carolina football fans can relax, because the team's best player insists he is not tanking the season and will be back on the field as soon as he is healthy and the head coach insists all is well.
"Am I fully committed? Always," Clowney, an All-American defensive lineman said after practice Tuesday. "I could've sat out. I'm not looking to sit out. I'm not that type of guy. I'm here for the team."
Spurrier and Clowney downplayed speculation of any friction between them amid questions about the all-American's commitment to the No. 12 Gamecock. The controversy began after last Saturday's victory over Kentucky when Spurrier expressed frustration and surprise that Clowney did not dress because of rib injury.
Even on Sunday, Spurrier still sounded perplexed about the situation. All that has changed.
"I just want to clear the air that Jadeveon — all those No. 7 jerseys and all the money he has made for our school — he has been a tremendous, important player," Spurrier said. "Every Gamecock, including me, the coaches and everybody else, we need to be appreciative that he chose South Carolina. He could have gone anywhere in the country. He is a big reason we have had those seasons. He is trying to do all he can to get ready to play.
"We all handled it poorly, all of us. ... This was a situation that he had something that was really bothering him and hopefully it will be taken care of real soon.
"He is hurt. If he doesn't play another down every Gamecock should be thankful he is here."
Clowney said he did not regret not playing but sounded contrite: "I mean, it was really just a miscommunication between me, the coaches and the trainer. I should have handled it different, just telling them like that, but it was a miscommunication. They were responding to me going back and telling them exactly what was going on and then they figured out the injury really was more serious than what it was. You know, it was alright."
Clowney was USA TODAY Sports' defensive player of the year in 2010 at South Pointe High in Rock Hill, S.C. His high school coach, Bobby Carroll, has no question about Clowney's desire.
"I've coached eight or nine future NFL players, and I've yet to coach a kid who wants to play more than Clowney does," said Carroll, now coach at York (S.C.) High. "If Clowney can play, he will play. If he can't and he thinks that by playing, he'll hurt the team, he'll be the first to say he can't play. ... That kid would never hold himself out because of the pros or who he's going to play. If he's capable of playing, he'll play."
Said Clowney, "When I get back healthy, I'm going to play and do my job and take care of business on the field."
Even so, Clowney said he does not know if he will be ready when South Carolina visits Arkansas on Saturday.
"I know there's a lot of scrutiny going on, a lot of talking," he said. "That's what people do. Give them something to talk about. I'm just sitting back laughing about it. I know my situation with the team. Our goals are still out there for us. Just trying to look for a big year."
This has not been the season either Clowney or fans expected. Clowney's profile rose exponentially Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl against Michigan. Video of his hit on running back Vincent Smith, which caused a fumble Clowney recovered in the fourth quarter to spark the Gamecocks' 33-28 victory, went viral and injected Clowney into Heisman Trophy discussion before this season.
Consequently, Clowney began the season listed among the Heisman hopefuls and was a big reason the Gamecocks began the season ranked No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll.
But Clowney has dealt with a combination of illnesses and bone spurs in his right foot while recording just 12 tackles and two sacks. The Gamecocks lost at Georgia in the second game of the year. And when Clowney missed the Kentucky game and his coach could not explain it, questions arose about whether the potential No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft was shutting down for the season.
"That's people's opinion," Clowney said. "I'm here every day, practicing with my team. People can say what they want to say. They're not here, in our locker room with the coaching staff. I know what's going on around here. We're 4-1, and we're just trying to win games. That's all we can do."
Quarterback Connor Shaw defended the lineman and said there were no problems within the team: "Clowney has helped us win a lot of games and he will help us win a lot more."
And Carroll said he did not believe Clowney would quit on his team.
"That kid would never hold himself out because of the pros or who he's going to play," Carroll said. "If he's capable of playing, he'll play. Even though he has the Superman persona, he's subject to injury. He chose the University of South Carolina, and those people need to rally behind him when he's injured. He's got another six or eight weeks of college football and I hope he goes out with a bang."
Spurrier indicated he was not going to rush his star.
"I'm all for Jadeveon and his future," Spurrier said. "When he is ready to play we're going to put him out there. He has been coming to treatment, I think, twice a day and told me he is doing everything he can to try to get ready to play."