Here is why Christian Wilkins is a team leader.
On one end of the spectrum he is texting former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant and letting him know he is still his brother and he loves him and respects him. On the other end, he is taking Trevor Lawrence out for breakfast, just to talk and hear how the freshman is doing with everything that was going on last week.
“It was really just hanging out and enjoying the meal. I will do that for anyone on the team,” Wilkins said. “Any of the young guys or anyone period who may seem to have a lot on their plate.
“A lot of my teammates look up to me in a lot of different ways, so I definitely like to return the favor and just show all of my teammates I have their back regardless of anything.”
After Bryant left the team last week, there was a lot for the Tigers, who will visit Wake Forest this Saturday, to deal with. The former Clemson quarterback went 16-2 as a starter and was the MVP of last year’s ACC Championship Game.
Bryant was one of Clemson’s team leaders and one of the more respected guys in the locker room. But it just wasn’t Bryant’s success on the field. It was the way he carried himself off the field that earned the respect of his teammates.
“When you lose someone, who is a great leader for his team and we all had a lot of respect for and, obviously, you had to deal with everything, but you also had people calling, like friends back home and family, asking you ‘what is going on and what’s up,’” Wilkins said. “Every time you plug your phone, you are getting social media alerts and all of this stuff. You try to put those aside, but they are all potential distractions.
“You can’t get away from it in today’s world. It is going to be talked about. It is going to be on every TV station and things like that, but you can’t pay attention to it. Like I said, we had a job to do.”
Clemson (5-0, 2-0 ACC) ultimately did its job in the end. Despite all the distractions and questions surrounding the team, the Tigers came together against Syracuse and rallied from down 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Orange.
They did it with subsequently their third-string quarterback, Chase Brice. If losing Bryant was not hard enough, Lawrence was knocked out of the game with concussion-like-symptoms and a neck strain late in the second quarter.
The reason the Tigers came from behind to earn the win was due to the way the culture and the leadership on the team is made up.
“Obviously, it’s a tough situation, but everyone still had a job to do,” Wilkins said. “At the end of the day, we all have to be professional. Everyone still has to do their part. That was the mindset. Whatever goes on, whether it’s the outside world, whether it’s within the team, when you show up and you’re playing football, you’ve got a job to do.”
Wilkins still has a lot of love and respect for Bryant as a man and as a player, and nothing about that has changed in the last week. He is still their brother and he is still a good friend.
“Whatever decision a player has to make for himself or whatever they feel like, you have to support them because at the end of the day he is still our brother and he is still our friend so there are a lot of guys that still have a lot of love and respect for him,” the senior said. “So, you have to support him through it and wish him all the best.”
However, Wilkins also understand his teammates come first and as a leader he has to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands they are all there for each other, which is why it was so important for him to let Lawrence know that and to let the freshman know his teammates have his back and are there for him, too.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of guys who can get the job done on this team,” Wilkins said. “So, at the beginning of the year, I feel like we had three quarterbacks who could win a lot of games for us regardless of how everything unfolded. That was still my mindset and that will be my mindset all year.”
And that’s why Christian Wilkins is such a good leader. He puts the needs of his teammates before his own, even those who are no longer his teammate.