By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jadeveon Clowney looked every inch the best young prospect the National Football League has seen in years when he took his first steps into the professional ranks on Thursday.
As widely expected, the 21-year-old was chosen by the Houston Texans as the first overall pick at the annual NFL Draft and took the news in his stride.
When the defensive end’s name was announced, he strolled on to the podium at Radio City Music Hall like he had been in the spotlight all his life, flashing a sheepish smile and hugged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” he later told reporters. “It’s like the pressure was relieved.
“I always wanted to play in the NFL, I always wanted to be a football player and now I’ve got my chance.”
Standing 6-feet-5 (1.96 m) and weighing 266 pounds (121 kgs), Clowney has all the physical attributes needed to make it in the NFL.
Clowney has been earmarked for the NFL from the moment he began his college career at the University of South Carolina, developing a huge national following with his dreadlocked hair and trademark diamond-stud earrings, which he wore again on Thursday.
An All-American in his second year in 2012, setting records for sacks, he was already good enough to enter the NFL but had to wait another year under the league’s rules.
His production dropped the following season, prompting speculation he was protecting his body for the NFL, but it mattered little when the draft took place and he was selected first.
“This feels great, I’ve been waiting all my life for this,” he said. “I grew up the hard way. A lot of people said I’d be nothing.
“But I always said I’d be something one day and here I am.”
As the number one pick, Clowney became an instant millionaire the moment his name was called, entitled to earn around $25 million for his first four seasons in the NFL.
It was a life-changing moment for Clowney, who was raised by a single mother who has spent the last 20 years working in a potato chip factory just to make ends meet.
“The first thing I’m going to do is take care of my mom,” he said.
Going number one is no guarantee of success.
Although the list of former number ones includes the likes of Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman, John Elway and Terry Bradshaw, there have been plenty of flops as well with players who were brilliant in college failing to have the same impact in the professional game.
Clowney said he was confident of making the transition and helping the Texans, who lost their last 14 games in 2013 to finish bottom of the NFL, get better.
“Just how great I want to be is up to me,” he said. “I hope to be a Hall of Famer one day. “I’m very humble about playing this game. I always tell myself I want to be better.
“I’ve never been on a losing team so whatever they want me to do it, I’ll do it.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)