Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins and the Tigers are coming off of a dominant performance against rival South Carolina last weekend. The sophomore had two pass deflections, two tackles, and a quarterback pressure in No. 3 Clemson’s 56-7 win over the Gamecocks.
As Clemson heads to Orlando, Florida on Saturday to play No. 18 Virginia Tech at Camping World Stadium, it looks to claim consecutive ACC Championships for the first time since the program won three straight from 1986-’88.
Wilkins reflects on this team’s journey, as they are now heading into the ACC Championship game yet again.
Question: How privileged do you feel to be playing in your second ACC Championship game?
Wilkins: “It’s big. There’s a reason you come here to Clemson to play football, you come here to be great. You come here to accomplish a lot of things. To play in two ACC Championship games is really big, and I hope we’ll get a few more before I leave here.”
Question: Is it hard not taking winning for granted now that you’ve lost a few games?
Wilkins: “Yeah, that’s the thing. Losing a couple games here keeps me grounded. It just goes to show you can’t take inning for granted.”
Question: Do you feel like, going in to this game, there is any pressure to perform because of what’s at stake?
Wilkins: “No I don’t think so. If we just go out there, be us, do our job, play our game, I think we’ll be just fine and pressure free.”
Question: As a pass rusher, who would you rather go against: a guy like Lamar Jackson who is super quick and shifty or a guy like Virginia Tech’s quarterback who is 6’5”, a big guy and hard to bring down?
Wilkins: “Two different challenges with those quarterbacks. Sometimes I like to see a bigger quarterback in the pocket, a nice guy to look at, real big obviously.”
Question: How do you feel the journey to this point this year has changed compared to this point last year?
Wilkins: “It’s different. Last year, everything was all new to me. Everything was happening so fast. Now, I feel like I’m more prepared for it just because I’ve experienced it. We know what it takes, we know what we can do. It’s good that we’ve been through it already.”
Question: How much did it mean to you to dominate South Carolina in your third straight win against those guys?
Wilkins: “It was big. Obviously being here for two years, I know what this rivalry means to a lot of people. It was really big to go out there and get one of the biggest wins ever in the rivalries history. It was a lot of fun and it was great for the seniors to go out the way they did.”
Question: When you look at their quarterback, he’s a big guy. How hard is it going to be to bring that guy down?
Wilkins: “Just watching him on film, they run him a lot. He’s a big, strong guy and everything. We’re just going to have to be disciplined and hit him early, that’s just the way to slow him down. When you do get a chance to hit him, you’re going to have to hit him pretty good.”
Question: What would it say about Clemson to win consecutive ACC Championships?
Wilkins: “It’s just big for our program. Just how far we’ve come since Coach (Dabo) Swinney has taken over as the head coach. It would just be great for our program and for the fans.”
Question: Coach Swinney said earlier that ever since you got to Clemson, you carried yourself like a senior in a lot of ways. How did you blossom into that role?
Wilkins: “It was something that was kind of just always in me. If I saw something, I’d speak up about it. Just to really lead. I’m just blessed to have that personality and those characteristics.”
Question: Did you go out of your way to become a mentor for Dexter (Lawrence) specifically, or did your personalities just mesh and it came naturally?
Wilkins: “It just happened. We hit it off when he was coming here getting recruited. Coming on his visits, I hosted him and it was just an instinct connection. He says I’m a big reason to why he came here.”
Question: How excited are you about playing in Orlando?
Wilkins: “I’m really excited, it’s going to be fun. I hope it’s not too hot or anything. I’ve done pretty well every time I’ve gone down to Florida.”