Tigers’ defensive tackle returns home as No. 2 Clemson takes on 17th-ranked BC
Moments after scoring his first rushing touchdown of his career at Florida State two weeks ago, Christian Wilkins took the time to go hug every running back on the team.
Because it was his way of saying thank you for allowing him to live out his dream by taking away one of their opportunities to score a touchdown. That’s just who Christian Wilkins is. He is the epitome of the kind of player Dabo Swinney seeks to play in his Clemson program.
“He’s one of those guys that’s so engaged in so many different things, he’s so much more than a football player,” Swinney said. “He’s just dynamic, incredibly engaged in the community, seeks out opportunities to serve others.
“I’m just really proud of him. He’s definitely one of the best leaders we have.”
Swinney recognized those qualities in Wilkins when he first met him in the recruiting process. His talents on the football field obviously stood out as he was ranked as the No. 1 player in the state of Connecticut and the No. 24-ranked player overall.
However, it was Wilkins’ charism, charm and selfless attitude, as well as his academic focus, that told Swinney they wanted him to come to Clemson.
“I remember the first time I met him in the recruiting process, I came away, ‘Wow, this is a really neat kid here.’ That’s kind of who he is,” Swinney said.
However, getting Wilkins to move nearly 1,000 miles south to play college football was not going to be an easy task, especially considering he was already committed to Boston College at the time, his favorite college team growing up, which was also an hour and a half drive from his hometown of Springfield, Mass.
Saturday will be a homecoming for the Clemson defensive tackle when he and the rest of the second-ranked Tigers take on No. 17 Boston College at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill.
“I remember Christian very well,” Boston College head coach Steve Addazio said. “First of all, he was a great player, but he had just such a great personality and a great presence about him, a wonderful, wonderful guy. Extremely talented. Obviously, Clemson got themselves an elite player who is a tremendous role model for the university.
“I really enjoyed recruiting him and getting to know him, and I’m sure it’s a great thrill for him to be able to come back up here and play in front of a lot of people that love to support him.”
Wilkins actually scooped up as many tickets as he could from his Clemson teammates, so he could get as many friends and family members as possible at the game for the 8 p.m., kickoff on ABC.
Coincidently, his friends and family will get to see him tie a Clemson record for a defensive tackle when he starts Saturday’s game. Wilkins will tie former Clemson great Jim Stuckey for most career starts, who had 40 during his career from 1976-’79.
“He’s a huge factor in our success over the last four years, and certainly specifically against the run,” Swinney said. “I mean, he’s a great, great defensive lineman. He’s one of those rare guys that was an impactful player as a freshman. I mean, really came in here and made a huge difference for us.”
Since then, Wilkins has matured into a first-round draft pick, while also graduating from Clemson faster than any scholarship football player in school history. Wilkins earned his undergraduate degree last December…two and a half years after he enrolled.
“As he’s matured, his body has changed, just his physicality, his strength, his recognition, the speed he plays with because of his knowledge, his confidence, his leadership,” Swinney said. “All those areas, he’s just grown and grown and grown.
“He’s a special young person, dynamic leader, a guy we’re definitely going to miss. Oh, yeah. He’s one of those guys, too, that really was kind of a leader the day he got here. Just very natural to him. He was a kid that was at a boarding school since the ninth grade, so he’s very independent.”
One of the ways in which Wilkins has served the Clemson area, he went and served as substitute teacher at a Walhalla, S.C., elementary school last spring.
“That’s the first player I’ve ever had go do that that didn’t have to do it,” Swinney said. “He’s always serving his teammates. He does things that people don’t see. He does some community service. He always stops and speaks to people, all kind of different ways.”
He’s just Christian Wilkins. That’s just who he is. He is the epitome of a Clemson Gentlemen.