In this day and age of college football where players are skipping bowl games to prepare for the draft and being extra cautious with injuries to protect themselves for their futures, Christian Wilkins’ mindset is the opposite.
Wilkins could be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft after opting to return to school for his senior season, but right now the defensive tackle is focused only on helping Clemson win games in any way that he can.
Wilkins is the heart and soul of Clemson’s defense and has recorded 27 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks through the first eight games of 2018. But he does more than just create havoc up front.
The 315-pounder is also on the field goal team, field goal block team and punt team. He has been a special teams contributor at Clemson since his freshman season.
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“He loves it. He is just a guy that truly, truly enjoys every day. He likes practice. He likes meetings. He likes the training in the summer. And he has rubbed off on so many people during his time here,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “He believes he can do anything. He really thinks that way.”
The motivation behind Wilkins contributing in so many ways is that he wants to win.
Yes, Wilkins came back to school to improve his draft stock, but he also came back to try to lead Clemson to another national title.
“He just loves to play. He loves to compete. You’re keeping score, he’s a great competitor,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Never gets tired, has tremendous endurance. Very selfless in everything that he does... I don’t know that we’ll ever come across another guy like him. Very unique on so many levels. Very talented. You can’t just do it just because you like it. You’ve got to be talented, too. But a really, really, really special guy.”
While Wilkins is a fierce competitor, he also makes sure to have fun.
Wilkins keeps the mood light during practice and in the meeting rooms with his outgoing personality. He added another mark to his resume this past Saturday against Florida State when he lined up in the jumbo package and rushed for a touchdown.
Clemson then played video of Wilkins diving into the end zone with “My Heart Will Go On” (the Titanic theme song) playing in the background.
“It’s a hard dynamic... you’re trying to focus and get mad and put everybody on edge in practice and then he comes up and pinches you on the booty,” Venables said. “It’s like, ‘Hey man, this ain’t the time. I’m not happy.’ It’s the dangdest thing. But that’s who he is and so you certainly want to promote that. But he knows when to really get serious and when not to. But he’s got a very playful, fun-loving spirit.”
That spirit has been on full display throughout the 2018 season as Wilkins has expressed his desire to play quarterback.
With Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson, Zerrick Cooper and Tucker Israel all transferring since the end of the 2017, Clemson does not have much depth at quarterback. Wilkins believes he can help.
Wilkins said last week that he has been staying after practice working on his passes and taking snaps so that “when my number’s called I’m ready.” He also said that he is going to speak with Swinney’s wife – Kathleen – so that she can push Dabo to give Wilkins a shot.
Wilkins believes getting to score a rushing touchdown was Swinney’s way of offering a compromise, but it’s not going to work.
“I know Coach, this was kind of just for Coach to shut me up because I’ve been in his ear a lot about playing quarterback or getting on offense,” Wilkins said. “But I’m still going to be at him next week and the week after and the week after that until he lets me play quarterback.”
Swinney was asked Tuesday if Wilkins could throw a pass later on this season and did not rule out the possibility.
“Hey man, you never know. Never know,” Swinney replied.
For a player who has contributed so much for Clemson in so manyways, it would be fitting for Wilkins to get at least a couple of plays in at quarterback before the end of the 2018 season. He’s done everything else.