By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- After just three games, Clemson fans are beginning to understand why freshman Sammy Watkins was rated a 5 star receiver coming out of high school. Although he still gets butterflies in his stomach before every game, you wouldn’t realize it, as Watkins has proven what a phenomenal player he can be for the Tigers as he has been a game changer in each game so far this season. Has Watkins been as comfortable as he’s looked on the field?
“I was very comfortable out there, going through the week with the practices we had, got me comfortable,” Watkins said. “Every game I get butterflies, because I don’t know what the opponents going to be like but after I get hit or tackled the first time I’m fine.”
With Watkins being a Florida native, this matchup is even more important to him than most mainly because of it being Clemson’s ACC opener, and he’s hoping his team can continue their streak.
“I play hard every game no matter who it is,” Watkins said. “But this game is definitely important to win because it’s our opener. Florida State didn’t recruit me very hard, only called me a few times, but didn’t recruit me as hard as Clemson did.”
Although there was a lot of hype and intensity surrounding Clemson’s game versus defending national champion Auburn last weekend, Watkins realizes that the Florida State game will be even more intense because of it being both teams’ first conference game.
“This game is going to be more intense, they beat us last year by 3 points,” Watkins said. “They’ve got new players, we’ve got new players, they’ve got five star players, we’ve got five star players, and it’s going to be a great show out there.”
When Watkins runs, he looks like a runner in baseball stealing a base, has he always been just a straight ahead runner or is it something he’s had to learn to do?
“The coaches stress it in practice so as it goes on I just do what they say and keep it moving,” Watkins said. “In high school I did the same thing, one cut and go, I’m not the kind of guy to just sit down and stay in place I just like to run straight forward, one move, and get down and move to the next play.”
When speaking to Head Coach Dabo Swinney about Watkins it was difficult for Swinney to come up with a weakness for his superstar freshman.
“I don’t think his size is a weakness for him, I think he’ll get stronger and bigger” Swinney said. “He can block, has great hands, great work ethic. He can continue to improve without the ball, but that’s just being a young player where he can continue to grow. But as far as the skill set of the position, he’s got everything you could possibly want in a receiver. He’s the total package.”
When speaking to Watkins though, he had several areas in which he knew he needed improvement.
“I just need to become a better blocker and listen to my coaches,” Watkins said. “I need to continue to hustle and play until I’m tired, and when I get tired just tap my helmet and let someone come in for me. I need to become more physical and know the plays better, just running routes and scoring. Learning what the defense is doing, learn what the play call is, learn your down and distance and what you need to do during that time.”
Watkins, who has already been named the ACC Rookie and Receiver of the Week, so far this season, doesn’t focus on all of the awards and accolades he receives.
“It’s a great thing but I don’t pay much attention to it,” Watkins said. “I know I still have a long way to go, it’s not over I just have to keep on grinding and I’ll continue to improve.”
Watkins, who looks more like a veteran player when he steps out on the field, thanks Clemson’s coaching staff for making the transition from playing high school football to playing in the collegiate level easier for him.
“The coaches have put me in such a great situation to go out there and start as a freshman,” Watkins said. “They put me in the situation to make plays, I’m kind of surprised at how easy I’ve been able to pick everything up but then again, hard practice pays off in the game.”
Is there a receiver that Watkins compares himself to and models his style of play after in either college or the NFL?
“Definitely Julio Jones,” Watkins said. “I love Julio Jones; he’s big, explosive, fast and very physical. He’s everything that I want to be as a receiver.”
Now that Watkins has gotten known a little bit around the nation as one of Clemson’s go to receivers, he’s going to become a target to opposing defenses, however Watkins is not concerned about this at all, he’s had a target on his back throughout his whole football career.
“In high school I was always getting targeted out because I was the leader of our team,” Watkins said. “I’m not going to take it differently at this level. I’m used to having a target on my back.”