More than three years ago, while he was lying in a hospital bed following a wreck that took the life of his best friend, Dache Gossett, Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins could not have imagined a day like Thursday.
Thursday was a joyful day for the senior as he was one of 12 Clemson football players that walked across the stage at Littlejohn Coliseum and received his college degree.
Following the crash on Sept. 21, 2013 that took Gossett’s life and left Watkins pinned inside the car for more than an hour while firefighters attempted to distract him from the vehicle, graduating from college and playing football were the furthest things from his mind.
“He had to overcome and come back from a lot,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
It took Watkins almost a year to totally recover both physically and mentally from the crash, and two years before he was back to being the kind of player the Clemson coaches always knew he would be.
But last year he became an All-ACC defensive tackle, while starting every game in the Tigers’ run to the national championship game. This year, he was once again a full-time starter and earned All-ACC honors again, while also becoming an All-American.
“When I achieve goals, I always reflect back on where I have come from,” Watkins said.
Watkins was doing a lot of reflecting after he received his degree from Clemson University in communication studies.
“This is definitely one of those special moments where I just think back to all of that. I’m just really thankful for all the opportunities I have had,” he said.
Watkins described walking across the stage to get his diploma, and shaking Clemson President Jim Clements’ hand, as one of the best feelings ever. He’s also glad he did not fall, while doing it.
“I did not want to trip or anything. That was on my mind, but once I got to President Clements, I was like, ‘I’m good. It’s an easy walk from here,’” he said.
The Clemson defensive tackle’s walk was a little easier this year. He said he took a lighter course load this semester so he was not stressed about school work and football. He said he is glad he does not have any more classes or homework to do and he can he can just concentrate on football from here on out.
“It’s just a lot of relief,” Watkins said. “It is one of the best feelings ever. The fact that I don’t really have to do anything else in school … I got my degree. This semester I didn’t have a really heavy course load so I got to focus a lot more on football, but now, I just get to focus on football. That is it. So that is a relief right there.”
Watkins, who became the first man in his family to graduate from college, is excited about the upcoming Fiesta Bowl matchup against Ohio State and the Tigers’ chances of advancing to the national championship game.
“We are not going to relax. We are going to get to work,” he said. “We have a lot more time now to key on film and study these guys so it is time to get back to work.”
Three years ago Watkins could not have imagine any of this.