ARLINGTON, Texas — Standing in AT&T Stadium surrounded by confetti is one of the many reasons Clemson defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant along with defensive tackle Christian Wilkins decided to return for another season when all three had an opportunity to be drafted in the NFL this past April.
Now these three players are competing for another national championship in Santa Clara, Calif. next Monday night after defeating Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl Classic as a part of the College Football Playoff Semifinal in Arlington, Texas.
“It’s definitely special,” Wilkins said after the game Saturday night. “Just all of the hard work that everybody put in, the leadership by the seniors and the vets on the team.”
“The coaches give their all each and every day, everybody on staff. It’s just special to be here,” Wilkins said. “We’ve experienced a lot of success during my time here and it really never gets old,” he said.
As a senior, Wilkins has made it to the College Football Playoff semifinals all four years and will now be heading to the national championship for the third time.
“The challenge of trying to get back each and every year is the most fun part because you face different adversities, you go up against different challenges,” he said.
“Each year is different and it’s just special each and every time because you just keep trying to find ways to get better and challenge yourself and challenge your teammates and always get better so it’s really special,” Wilkins said. “This is where we thought we could be. Our goal each year is to be the best we can be,” he said.
The week leading up to the Cotton Bowl, the defensive line was shaken up when news broke that defensive tackle, Dexter Lawrence was ruled ineligible for the game. He along with freshman tight end Braden Galloway and reserve offensive lineman Zach Giella tested positive for a small trace of Ostarine found in their systems.
But, the “next man up” mentality prevailed as defensive tackles Albert Huggins, Jordan Williams and Nyles Pickney all did an excellent job filling in.
“Those guys that stepped up,” Byant said. “Albert, Jordan, and Nyles, they did a phenomenal job.”
The defensive line is a close knit group and it paid off for the Tigers against Notre Dame, now Clemson is one step away from reaching the pinnacle of college football for the second time in three years.
“I’m just proud of them and proud of Dex for cheering them on and being there for them whenever they needed someone to lean on,” said Bryant. “We all came together and played our hardest and just thankful for the opportunity,” he said.