Sammy Watkins potentially faced a four-game suspension to start the season following his arrest in May.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Friday he decided two games was sufficient after Watkins, an All-American as a freshman, displayed contrition and regret.
“I messed up. No one else messed up,” Watkins said after Clemson’s first preseason practice. “It humbled me.”
Swinney said he refrained from levying punishment earlier because of the nature of the incident and Watkins track record since entering Clemson a year ago.
Never miss a local story.
“That’s what I thought was fair based on his past decision making,” Swinney said. “It was going to be a minimum of two. That’s pretty consistent based on what I have been around in the past, and the way I think it should be handled.
“The best way to get guys’ attention is to sit them. I was glad it was not an emotional decision or it would have been more than that.”
The immediate question as Swinney prepares the team for his fourth full season as coach is whether or not he can push them through the distraction of not having the best player on last year’s team for Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 1. Clemson placed 14th in the first coaches’ poll this week.
“He is one of the most explosive playmakers in the country, but we have other guys on the team just as capable that just need an opportunity,” said junior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who admitted to being somewhat shocked when Swinney told the team Friday.
“It gives a lot of guys an opportunity to step up for the first game,” he said. “And I have a lot of expectations for this team and myself.”
Boyd said the level of discipline gives every player on the team pause.
“I think it sends somewhat of a message, but at the end of the day we all make mistakes,” he said.
“Sammy is one of the best most humble down-to-earth person I’ve ever met, but punishment has to be served.”
Senior center Dalton Freeman said he supported Swinney’s decision.
“We were prepared for the worst,” said Freeman, the bell cow of an line that holds the key offensively with or without Watkins. “We trust in coach Swinney and believe he made the right decision. I think everybody can look at it as an example because Sammy has done nothing but do the right thing ever since he’s been here.
“Sammy made a bad choice. Since then he’s come into his own and I think he’s going to grow.”
Swinney continued to defend his method for reaching the decision and his reluctance to draw a line in the dirt. He said the decision was his solely.
“Like I said from Day One, there were some things that needed to be done,” he said. “I’m really proud of him. He just did a fantastic job with everything that was asked of him.
“I think he’s going to move on,” he said. “I am incredibly satisfied with how he handled himself.”
Swinney pointed out he had 29 days until the game in Atlanta.
“I am confident in who we have,” he said. “This team is bigger than any one player.”