By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Before the 2013 football season even started, former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins knew he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft if he had the kind of season he knew he was capable of having.
“I think that is how I approached the season and I think that is how the coaches approached it,” Watkins said Friday from the media room at Littlejohn Coliseum. “They were going to get the best out of me and they were going to get the ball to me all year and I had to be a complete player.”
And boy was he. Watkins, who announced his plans to enter the 2014 NFL Draft earlier this week, finished the 2013 season with 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns, breaking Clemson records for receptions and receiving yards in a season. The native of Fort Myers, Fla., was a first-team All-American this year by the American Football Coaches Association and was a finalist for the 2013 Biletnikoff Award.
Watkins finished his career with 240 receptions for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns. The reception total and yardage total are Clemson records and the touchdown total tied DeAndre Hopkins, who is now with the Houston Texans of the NFL.
“I also had to be a leader on and off the field and I think I managed that well this year,” he said. “I think the coaches did a great job working me and getting me back to that same Sammy Watkins I was in my freshman year.”
Sammy Watkins was not Sammy Watkins in 2012. Though he had 53 catches for 708 yards, he scored only four touchdowns and was not the same electrifying player that he was in 2011.
There were a lot of reasons for that. First he wasn’t as dedicated as a player and student of the game as he was as a freshman. He lost that hunger and desire that made him so good. Then he had a brief brush with the law where he was arrested for simple possession of marijuana in May of 2012, which was a misdemeanor.
He pled guilty, served community service and had the charges dropped from his file. After serving a two-game suspension to start the season, he got sick and missed a game. Then there was the LSU game in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve when he suffered a high-ankle sprain on the second play of the game.
From the arrest to the sprained ankle, Watkins says 2012 was a very humbling experience.
“Everyone thinks that is a bad point in my life, but I think that helped me out,” he said. “That experience made me see the bigger picture. A lot of kids look up to me. I didn’t know I was this big of a star, this kind of football player.
“I was just going out there playing football and doing the thing I love to do. Knowing that this Paw has a bigger meaning than just football and myself, I had to reevaluate myself and fix the little things I was doing in my life, like partying and not doing the right things. That helped me grow with the team. They respected me for stepping up and doing what I had to do with the law and all the hours I had to put in with my community service and all the things I did with the kids as far as speaking out and reaching out to not do bad things and be with bad people.
“It helped me grow with the coaches, too. We had a lot of honesty and a lot of discipline, and I respect those guys for what they did and how they handled the situation and how they helped me.”
Watkins says he owes a lot to head coach Dabo Swinney and his position coach Jeff Scott because they helped him become a better man and football player. He says coming to Clemson was the best choice he could have made because he does not feel there is a better place that would have helped him grow as a student athlete and as a player.
“I definitely have exceled not only in football but as a man here,” said Watkins, who plans to train for the combine in Tampa, Fla. “I want to thanks not only my coaches, but my teammates for keeping humbled at this stage in my life.
“I want to thank this community and all the fans for standing behind Clemson and being all in. It has been a pleasure being here these last three years and growing as a young man. I think I have maximized my opportunity here and I want to thank everyone with Clemson Nation in supporting me.”