Wilkins tried to be a bright light in his first NFL season

Wilkins tried to be a bright light in his first NFL season


Wilkins tried to be a bright light in his first NFL season


During Christian Wilkins’ four years at Clemson, the Tigers posted a 55-3 record, tied for the best record by one senior class in the history of college football.

Clemson not only won 55 games in his four years, but it also won two national championships and played in the College Football Playoff all four times. Wilkins and the Tigers won four ACC Championships, too. They also beat powerhouse programs Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame to do it.

At Clemson, Wilkins was used to success.

However, when your one of the NFL’s top players in a draft, it usually means you go to a team that maybe has not had the same kind of success you are accustomed to in college. Such was the case for Wilkins, who was picked No. 13 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins.

Since Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino retired following the 2000 season, the Dolphins have seldom been a factor in the NFL the last two decades. In 2017, the Dolphins posted a 6-10 record and were 7-9 in 2018. Last year, even with Wilkins starting on the defensive line, they were just 5-11 and finished last in the AFC East Division.

“This was one of the more challenging years of my life,” Wilkins said last week to Eric Mac Lain on the ACC Network’s Instagram Live. “Everyone thinks because you are in the NFL, everything is peachy. You got a little money in your pocket, what do you have to complain about? But from a football standpoint it was definitely one of the more challenging seasons of my life just because you are playing so many games. There are so many distractions off the field and so many things going on off the field that you have to balance that with being on a team that is struggling early in the year.

“We are trying to make things happen and we are all trying to figure it out. You are rookie. You want to be vocal and you want to be the leader and you want to do things, but you are still learning so much yourself. There are just so many different variables and things like that.”

Wilkins played in all 16 games last year and started 14 of them. He recorded 56 tackles from his defensive tackle position, including three tackles for loss. Two of those TFLs were sacks.

The three-time All-American from Clemson also scored a touchdown during his rookie year. After scoring three touchdowns at Clemson, he was credited with a 1-yard touchdown reception in the Dolphins’ win over Cincinnati on Dec. 22, 2019.

“The biggest thing I was able to do, even when we were struggling, I was able to kind of take a step back and just think about it. I was living my dream,” Wilkins said. “So, that always kept me grounded and I found ways to have fun with it and smile through it all.

“I just tried to be the same person I was every day. Bring energy and bring good positive vibes in, and I feel like my teammates kind of respected me for that and looked at me to be that ball of energy, that bright light.”

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