The Jan. 7 issue of the Aiken Standard subtly captures the spirit and drive South Aiken defensive end Rasool Clemons has when it comes to football. Clemons is no stranger to being featured in the newspaper, for three years his name has often been mentioned in sentences alongside big plays like forced fumbles, sacks, tackles and even blocked extra points.

The article which accompanied his front-page photo in the aforementioned issue of the paper wasn’t about football. In the snapshot, he was preparing to do what he did for a good portion of the offseason, spending time at the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center working on improving his skills. Only on that day, Clemons was doing so in temperatures which dipped into the low 50s.

Clemons shrugged off the severity of the chilly winter days spent working out, noting it reminded him of being in his native state of New Jersey. The desire to hone his skills is something Clemons said hasn’t wavered during the offseason.

His goal is simple, he wants to win playoff games.

Just making the playoffs with the Thoroughbreds would be a breakthrough, so Clemons spent a portion of his offseason making sure he’s in the position to give his team the best chance at succeeding when the season starts. The behind-the-scenes work is fitting for the South Aiken star, who doesn’t get caught up in the cameras, attention and hype that comes his way.

“Being at a level where I get the attention has been great, but I’m really not into all that media and stuff,” Clemons said. “I just take it day-by-day and act like a normal kid, but everything happens for a reason.”

However, the dedication, combined with his inexorable presence on the defensive line, separates him from normal high school football players. It’s why so many big-time college football programs are recruiting Clemons, and it also makes him No. 2 in The Standard 10, the list of area players to watch for the 2014 football season.

Clemons said the main focus of his offseason work was conditioning and quickness.

“I worked on speed. … I want to come off the ball quicker,” he said. “Conditioning wise, it’s about not getting tired as fast.”

Just as he did prior to the 2013 season, Clemons hit the weight room this offseason. The work resulted in Clemons adding about 10 pounds.

The added stamina and strength will be needed. With Clemons’ prevalence and impact on the defensive line, he’s likely to continue facing the double teams that have waited for him in most games. He welcomes the added attention from the opposition. Clemons said he’s just fine opening things up for his fellow linemen and linebackers. He realizes he gives the team what head coach Jeremy West called a “unique advantage.”

“He’s a game changer in many ways. People know him. Some teams gameplan and do special things to deal with him, some don’t. He will see some double teams because he’s that talented of a player, but that can create an advantage, too,” West said.

Clemons’ main concern on the field is the final result. He wants to see a greater total in the win column this season after South Aiken went 3-8 last season and narrowly missed the playoffs.

“I don’t really have any personal goals. I just want to win. That’s pretty much what it is,” Clemons said. “I could have zero sacks, but as long as we win, I’m satisfied with that.”

While not worried about stats, Clemons seems to find a way to make plays in the offensive backfield regardless of the oppositions focus on limiting him. Last season, he worked around the double teams and notched 66 tackles including 19 tackles for loss.

The 6-foot-6, 212-pound senior has been eye-catching for quite some time now. After his sophomore year, he started getting attention from colleges around the nation. As it currently stands, he has offers from the likes of LSU, Tennessee, Clemson and Florida State, to name a few. The scouting website has him listed as a four-star recruit, the No. 13 weakside defensive end in the nation and the No. 5 overall recruit in the state of South Carolina. He has his favorites, including Tennessee, which he visited recently, but he isn’t ready to commit to a college yet. He said he has enjoyed the recruiting experience, in particular meeting LSU head coach Les Miles.

Despite it all, West said the best quality about Clemons is the fact he doesn’t let the accolades and attention affect him in an adverse way.

“He has grown a lot as a person. He’s a good teammate and leader. It’s amazing because usually somebody getting attention like he is, sometimes they don’t usually carry themselves the way he does. He’s just like any of the other guys. He’s humble and puts in the work everybody else does,” West said. “His attitude is infectious a bit. It’s good for everybody around the team. You can tell the other guys look up to him some, and they all want to be successful.”

South Aiken won’t only be banking on his defensive skills, but they are hoping to utilize his talents for production on the offensive side of the ball as well. West revealed that Clemons will see some action at the receiver position this year. The T-Breds lost nearly all of their leading receivers last season – Skyler Lightbody, Matt Albertson and Adam Allen all graduated.

“We need the 11 best players on the field at all times. That goes for both sides of the ball,” West said. “He’s tall, rangy and has tremendous athletic ability. We need to be taking advantage of all the options we have.”

The additional duty gives Clemons another chance to leave everything on the field. He has been anxiously awaiting the season opener against rival Aiken on Aug. 29. He plans to make the most of his final season as one of the leaders of the T-Bred squad.

“I’ve got my team’s back on and off the field, so I can’t wait to get out there on the field with them,” he said. “I’m just going to play every down like it’s my last. I plan on taking on every challenge.”

Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on twitter @EricJ_Russell

This story is the ninth part in a series highlighting The Standard 10, the top 10 Players to Watch in the Aiken area for the rapidly approaching high school football season.

• July 21 — No. 10 DeAngilo Drayton, SB

• July 22 — No. 9 Dalton Swires, FC

• July 23 — No. 8 Tyree Stidem, ST

• July 24 — No. 7 Rashad Byrd, NA

• July 25 — No. 6 Malik Lee, SA

• July 26 — No. 5 Chad Gilchrist, ST

• July 27 — No. 4 Kameron Brown, MV

• July 28 — No. 3 Daniel Carr, MV

• Today — No. 2 Rasool Clemons, SA

• Wednesday — No. 1

The order was determined by Aiken Standard sports editor Noah Feit, staff writers Jeremy Timmerman and Eric Russell, North Augusta Star news editor Scott Rodgers and staff writer T.J. Lundeen, as well as ASTV broadcasters Ed Girardeau and Ken Brace.