Meet college football’s next Jadeveon Clowney, a NJ ‘freak’

The praise has been overwhelming. The expectations are through the roof. There have been comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney and Jabrill Peppers in terms of skill set and impact.

Rashan Gary, the University of Michigan defensive end from northern New Jersey, is expected to make a quantum leap in his sophomore season.

“I’m the only person in my way,” the former No. 1 overall high school prospect told The Post in a phone interview, a rare moment when the humble and soft-spoken standout showed some bravado.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown agrees wholeheartedly, saying in June the 6-foot-5, 287-pound Gary is the “best I’ve ever seen,” in terms of “combining speed, strength, change of direction, and the mental curve.” He ran a 4.57 40-yard dash in the spring, scary-fast for a lineman. ranked Gary as the ninth-best player in college football and he made the Associated Press All-American preseason second team. Teammate Mike McCray said Gary reminded him of Clowney, the Texans defensive lineman and former South Carolina superstar.

“He’s definitely a freak,” McCray told reporters in July. “He’s too big to be that fast and athletic. It’s something rare that you see.”

When told of the comparison, Gary was stunned. He doesn’t scroll Twitter looking for his name. He rarely reads articles about himself. It was news to him.

“Being compared to somebody like that, that makes me want to work harder, strive to be that or better,” the Plainfield, N.J., native said.

Jabrill Peppers went from Paramus Catholic to Michigan to the NFL. Rashan Gary wants to do the same.Angel Chevrestt

Gary has high hopes for himself. He expects to be a far different player this season. He has certain numbers in mind, numbers he has kept to himself.

“I don’t want to do too much gloating,” Gary said. “I want to show the world.”

Last season was like an apprenticeship. Gary, who had 27 tackles, five for losses and one sack, learned from starting defensive ends Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley, both of whom are now in the NFL. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced. For the first time, he wasn’t the star.

“Usually Rashan had all the answers through high school,” his mother, Jennifer Coney, said. “Rashan never took a backseat to anybody. But college to high school is two different [things]. He was there to absorb, to learn, to get the tutelage from the guys with the experience.”

That wasn’t the frustrating part. Gary knew he wasn’t going to walk into a major program and excel immediately. He was content spending his freshman year as a backup. But the transition from high school to college was more difficult than he imagined. Learning the playbook was trying. Poor plays would stick with him.

“I felt like I was letting myself down, letting my coaches down, letting my teammates down,” he said.

That’s where Wormley and Charlton helped the most. The duo instilled in him a positive mindset. When they could tell he was upset, they picked him up.

“It’s how you rebound,” they told him frequently.

“His confidence and his maturity level from last year to this year is crazy,” Coney said. “If you were to hear Rashan speak and talk last year compared to this year, it’s like a completely different young man.”

The biggest change, though, may be his body. Gary dedicated the offseason to slimming down. When he first arrived in Ann Arbor he was 297 pounds with 22 percent body fat. He’s down to 287 pounds and 13 percent body fat. Gary cut out fried foods and sweets, including ice cream, his personal favorite. He changed how he ate.

“I wanted to get my body to a place where it’s never been,” he said. “Making sure when it comes down to games, I stay in there as long as I can.”

He also has seen a change in his stamina and strength. He doesn’t get fatigued as easily. Linebacker Mauirce Hurst Jr. has noticed how fast Gary is playing. He doesn’t have to think, just react. The speed of the game has slowed down for him.

“He can be a star on our defense, and someone who elevates the defense,” Hurst said. “Last year it was Jabrill a lot of the time. This year, I’m hoping it can be Rashan. He has the ability to really change a game.”

There is definitely the hope in Ann Arbor that Gary can be this year’s Peppers for the defense. Coach Jim Harbaugh has even spoken of Gary as he described Peppers, that he has a desire to be great and doesn’t let the hype get to his head.

There are similarities between the two players despite the fact they play different positions. Both attended Paramus Catholic and were elite-level recruits, and didn’t have big freshmen seasons. Now Peppers, a safety who was used all over the field for Michigan, is with the Browns in the NFL, the league where Gary hopes to play one day.

“It gives me more motivation, to see a guy you grew up around where I’m from, went to the same [high] school, came to the same college, balled out, did what he had to do, and now he’s providing for his family,” Gary said. “I definitely got to get there. That’s what I want to strive to do.”

Metro stars

A look at some of the locals, in addition to Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary, to keep an eye on this season:

RB Gus Edwards, Rutgers

After receiving limited playing time as a backup in three years at Miami, running for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns, the bulldozing running back from Staten Island is coming home. A graduate transfer, the former Tottenville High School star has impressed Rutgers coaches, winning the starting job.

DT Folorunso Fatukasi, UConn

Entering his third year as a starter, the 6-foot-4, 303-pound lineman from Far Rockaway is a linchpin to the UConn defense, producing 123 tackles, 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses in his first three seasons.

Hayes runs a drill during Notre Dame fall practices.AP

DT Jay Hayes, Notre Dame

The outgoing defensive lineman from Brooklyn has yet to reach expectations in South Bend, failing to make much of an impact. But now a redshirt senior, the once highly rated prospect out of Poly Prep followed up a strong spring with an even better summer, and is a projected starter.

OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia

This is expected to be a learning season for the five-star offensive lineman. A true freshman from Poly Prep, Wilson has worked all over the Georgia line as a backup this summer, seeing time at guard and tackle. But he’s already taking reps as the second-team left tackle, so he could force his way onto the field this fall.

QB Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame

All eyes are on the kid from Teaneck, N.J., the key to Notre Dame rebounding from a four-win season. The big-armed quarterback out of St. Peter’s Prep has thrown just five passes in his college career, and will be counted on to guide a talented, though mostly inexperienced, offense.