By Will Vandervort
When offensive coordinators plan to attack the Pittsburgh Steelers, the first person they make their quarterback account for is Troy Polamalu. The Steelers’ strong safety has the freedom to lineup anywhere he wants to because he is one of those rare players that has the speed, the strength and the athletic ability to do just about anything.
He gives offensive coordinators fits whether it is diving over the line of scrimmage to tackle the quarterback on fourth-and-one or blitzing off the edge and forcing a fumble or dropping into coverage and intercepting a pass and then returning it for a touchdown.
The last three seasons Clemson has had its own version of Troy Polamalu, except he plays on offense. When defensive coordinators gear up to stop the Tigers it begins with “where is Sammy Watkins.” Clemson’s wide receiver lineups in the boundary, on the field side, in the slot and in the backfield. He not only catches passes, he also runs the ball out of the backfield or on reveres. He will sometimes throw the ball too and offensive coordinator Chad Morris uses him as a decoy from time to time.
Watkins truly fits the status of Most Valuable Player, which is why he is The Clemson Insider’s Most Valuable Player for the 2013 football season.
“You try to be the best and lead by example. Just try to do the right things,” the junior said. “You have a lot of people watching you and looking up to you and hopefully they want to play at Clemson. They are watching you.”
They have watched Watkins become only the second player in Clemson history with a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons, a milestone he reached in the win over Georgia Tech on Nov. 14. Former Clemson receiver Rod Gardner also had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in 1999 and 2000.
Watkins has 1,237 yards for the year and became Clemson’s career reception yardage leader in the win over The Citadel on Nov. 23. He now has 3,071 for his career.
“They are great accomplishments, but at the same time, I’m a team-first person,” Watkins said.
“Individual records, they are great, but at the same time it is better when you do it with the whole team, the coaches and the staff.”
Watkins has been setting records left and right lately. He also broke DeAndre Hopkins record for 100-yard receiving games in a season with his 104-yard, two-touchdown performance against Georgia Tech. It was his seventh of the year. Hopkins (2012) and Tony Horne (1997) had six 100-yard games in a season.
One record Watkins is still chasing is the career touchdown reception record. He has 10 this year and 25 for his career. Hopkins had 27 from 2010-12. Watkins is also second in total career receptions with 224. Aaron Kelly had 232 from 2005-08, so he needs nine in the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3 to pass Kelly.
“One of the things I don’t do is talk about the things that I have done,” Watkins said. “It’s in the record books. I have a blue-collar approach in practice and have fun. It is the same thing in the game. I have fun and play the game and play it the way it is supposed to be played.
“There are no divas on this team. We just come out and play football.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says his All-American receiver is, “One the lowest maintenance superstars that I have ever dealt with.”
“He is very genuine and is very coachable. You can kick him in the tail and you can love on him. It does not matter. He just responds,” Swinney said.