When Sammy Watkins began practice in August of 2011, it took him one day to move up the depth chart to the No. 1 position at the field wide receiver spot.
Longtime sports information director for Clemson Football Tim Bourret said he could remember just one other player in his 39 years at Clemson who did a similar thing. That player was three-time All-American linebacker Anthony Simmons (1995-’97) who took over as the No. 1 middle linebacker on his first day of practice.
Like Simmons, Watkins went on to become a three-time All-American at Clemson, the first Clemson player to be named a first-team All-American all three years. In his first season, Watkins set a Clemson freshman record with 82 catches for an overall record 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Watkins broke both of those marks in 2013 has he hauled in a Clemson record 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 more scores. He is still the only Clemson player to catch 100 or more passes in a season.
So with Mike Williams and Artavis Scott now in the NFL playing for the San Diego Chargers, does that mean the window is open for someone like Tee Higgins, a five-star signee out of Oak Ridge, Tenn., to come in and be the next Sammy Watkins.
Maybe! However, the competition and talent at wide receiver right now is perhaps as good as it ever has been, and though Higgins is extremely talented, it does not mean a players like Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are going to just let him come in and take their jobs.
Regardless, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is excited about what Higgins brings to the table, as well as fellow Tennessee native Amari Rodgers.
“Just like any time you get a great player, I was excited about Diondre (Overton) and T.J. (Chase) and Cornell (Powell) coming in last year,” Swinney said. “All those guys are going to be good players. But he’s a guy, just based on what I’ve seen in camp when we were able to have our hands on him, he’s a pretty special talent, and Amari as well.
“So I’m excited about both those guys coming in, and any time you can have a bunch of elite-type guys competing, that’s a good situation to be in, and that’s what we’re going to have at that position.”
Higgins was Clemson’s highest rated signee according to ESPN, Scout and 247Sports. Mr. Football in the state of Tennessee and a high school All-American, the 6-foot-4, 190-freshman caught 68 passes last year for 1,044 yards, while scoring 18 touchdowns for Oak Ridge High School. He also had three punt returns for a touchdown and had one interception for a score, an 89-yard return.
Higgins, who scored 16 touchdowns as a junior, will enroll at Clemson next month so he can participate in summer workouts, along with nine other freshmen.