When Christian Wilkins came to Clemson in 2015, his goal was to one day leave it in better shape than how he found it. It is safe to say he did just that.
It was not like Clemson was in bad shape when he arrived on campus in 2015. The Tigers had just completed their fourth straight 10-win season, tying a school record at the time. Clemson had won an ACC Championship in 2011, played in the Orange Bowl twice and beat LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma in consecutive bowl games.
However, when Wilkins and other guys like Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant joined the likes of Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, Ben Boulware and Hunter Renfrow to name a few, the program went to another level.
Wilkins, who now plays for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, made an immediate impact. As a freshman, he was a reserve defensive tackle, playing in all 15 games, while recording 84 tackles, including 4.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Clemson won its first 14 games that year and advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship.
In 2016, the Tigers again won 14 games and again went back to the national championship, but this time they won it. That year Wilkins became a First-Team All-American at defensive end after filling in for an injured Bryant.
Clemson won a third straight ACC Championship in 2017 and again went to the CFP. After moving back to defensive tackle, Wilkins again earned First-Team All-American status.
At that point, most thought Wilkins, who had already earned his degree, was heading to the NFL. He had fulfilled his promise and made Clemson even better than it was before. However, Wilkins did not feel that way. He felt as if there was still more work for him to do at Clemson.
In January of 2018, he, along with Ferrell and Bryant, stunned everyone when they all decided to return to Clemson for one more season and make another run at a national championship.
“I just felt like, at the time, that chapter at Clemson was not ready to end for me. I was not ready to close that chapter,” Wilkins told Eric Mac Lain on the ACC Network’s Instagram Live feed earlier this week. “I felt like there was a lot more I could have accomplished. A lot more development for me as a player. I just wanted to make sure I tapped every resource and just really, had that full college experience, too.
“I did not want to leave and think ‘what if’ or anything like that, I just wanted to make sure I got everything I could out of Clemson and just finished blooming where I was planted.”
There was no “what if” for Wilkins. He, along with Ferrell, Bryant and junior Dexter Lawrence, formed the greatest defensive front in the history of college football in 2018. The Tigers led the nation in sacks with a Clemson record 54. They also led the nation in scoring defense, the first time a Clemson defense had done such.
More importantly, he helped guide the Tigers to a 15-0 record and to the 2018 National Championship, while becoming the first major college football program to complete a 15-0 season since 1897. At the end of the season, he became just the fifth unanimous All-American in school history and became the first Clemson player to ever win the Campbell Trophy, the nation’s academic Heisman.
When his college career was finally complete, Wilkins left Clemson with two degrees, including his master’s degree. He was a two-time national champion, a three-time All-American and was part of the winning-est senior class in college football history.
“I came to Clemson to leave it better than I found it. I feel like I ultimately did that staying the extra year,” Wilkins said.
Yes, he did.
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