After arriving to Clemson in 2015, it didn’t take long for Christian Wilkins to realize that the so-called “freshman 15” isn’t a myth.
The Clemson defensive lineman came in at 300 pounds before gaining weight during his freshman season. Like many of his peers at that age, especially a ravenous lineman, he was susceptible to the temptation of all-you-can-eat food in any of the number of dining halls on campus.
“I came in at 300 pounds, a little doughy, a little chubby, and gained weight, too,” Wilkins recalled on Tuesday. “I was kind of just figuring it out. I was just fat and happy when I first got here. I was always eating. So much access to food. The freshman 15 was a real thing for me.”
Despite not being in peak physical shape, Wilkins earned freshman All-American honors after posting 84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks over 15 games in 2015. He was a key contributor on a stingy defense that helped the Tigers win an ACC Championship, beat Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl and reach the national title game.
Still, Wilkins wasn’t satisfied with his physical condition. After the season ended, he knew he needed to drop some weight in order to be at his best and maintain his productiveness over the long haul.
“I knew after my freshman season, after the Orange Bowl and the national championship, I was way heavier than I wanted to be,” Wilkins said. “That’s when I was like I can’t allow myself to do this, and ever since that point on, I’ve just been more serious about my food choices and just really working harder and doing little extra things here and there to keep my body in the best shape possible at all times. I definitely just took it more serious and just focused on it more.”
Two years later as a junior, thanks to a lot of hard work and conscious effort to be more fit, Wilkins is back to a chiseled 300 pounds.
He credited several people for helping him improve his fitness, including Clemson director of strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson, assistant strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman, director of football nutrition Paul Harrington and executive performance chef for Clemson football Donna McCain.
“First of all, shout to Joey Batson and coach Smo. They definitely got me right,” Wilkins said. “Also another shout out to Paul and Donna. They’ve done a good job with the whole nutrition and everything, as well.
“So, I just know that nutrition is such a big part of being a good football player, and if I want to play this game for a while and be at my best, then nutrition is big and just keeping your body in shape.”
Now, instead of “fat and happy” or “doughy”, Wilkins can confidently describe his body differently.
“Ripped is good. Sexy is another,” he joked. “But that’s more of an art, though. Being sexy is an art. Ripped is good. I’ll take it.”
Wilkins’ determination to get in shape has certainly paid off and translated into even more success on the field.
As a sophomore last season, Wilkins was a first-team All-American and Nagurski Trophy finalist. He logged 56 tackles, 13 for loss and 3.5 sacks while starting all 15 games during the Tigers’ national championship season. He continues to be a force up front for Clemson defensively this year, as he’s recorded 30 tackles, 4.5 for loss, three sacks and six quarterback pressures through nine games.
Dabo Swinney has witnessed Wilkins’ worth ethic and physical transformation firsthand. Clemson’s head coach said he is proud of his star defensive lineman for being a leader and an example to his teammates.
“He was a fat, pudgy kid when he got here, kind of soft around the edges,” Swinney said. “Now he’s got a couple abs, a 300-pounder. And that’s just him. He’s so committed to creating every edge for himself. He’s a very knowledgeable player. But he has just served as a good example to his teammates, and he brings great energy to that front.”