Back Christian Wilkins, the New Face of Clemson Football

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Christian Wilkins, the New Face of Clemson Football

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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There is a new standard for the Tigers, from number 4 to 42.

I just get so excited watching my teammates succeed and do their thing on the field, and I just genuinely love being a good teammate.
~Christian Wilkins

Entering last season, Deshaun Watson headlined a talented Clemson team that had captivated the country with a run to the College Football Playoff. A Heisman Trophy finalist and all-everything signal caller, Watson was the confident captain of a team with championship expectations. Though not a quarterback, mighty Christian Wilkins has moved into that role. Hardware-in-hand this summer, Wilkins leads the Tigers' title defense in more ways than one.

Simply put, Wilkins was a revelation in 2016, with 20 quarterback pressures, 13 tackles for loss, ten pass break-ups and 3.5 sacks for a top ten scoring defense, a group that led the nation with 130 tackles for loss. As a sophomore, Wilkins was a key difference-maker for a defensive line that was absolutely critical to Clemson winning the national title. He enters his junior year as one of the nation's premier players.

The goal, for Wilkins, is simple: make his presence felt.

"Really what I think about is being disruptive on every play, however that can happen," Wilkins explained. "Initially stopping the run, that's my first thought, and stopping the pass, getting to the quarterback, but I mean, if I can't do that, I've just got to try to disrupt the play in any way I can, when it's a tougher time to rush or based off the pass protection, and trying to get my hands up. It's all about knowing football.

Along with the likes of Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence, Wilkins will lead college football's most dominant defensive line. He and the 6'5'', 340-pound Lawrence, specifically, create an interior tandem that may prove to be one of the best in a generation. As underclassmen a year ago for the Tigers, they combined for 110 total stops. Per Wilkins, he, Lawrence and the rest of the ferocious front line is still improving. This fall, Clemson will look to lead the country in tackles for loss for an astonishing fifth year in a row. 

"I'm really looking forward to what me and Dexter are able to do. There's a lot of talk about that, but we both know we've got to put in the work. We both have a lot of potential and we both haven't reached our fullest potential yet as players, and I'm pushing him every day and he's pushing me," Wilkins continued. "And not only us, but everybody else on the D-Line, Cle, Austin, all the other power rangers. I'm pushing them to be their best and they're all pushing me to be my best, as well."  

More than just a defensive force, Wilkins, remarkably fluid and athletic, caught a touchdown pass against Troy and blocked a kick and converted a fake punt run versus North Carolina State. He, from the line of scrimmage, is a dynamic gamebreaker. 

Statistics, with Wilkins, only tell part of the story. An emotional leader for the Tigers, his influence is felt by both those he plays against and those he plays with. Wilkins brings a powerful energy to the Clemson sidelines, a potential that, quite often, turns into production. Making big plays on offense, defense and special teams, Wilkins is a 6'4'', 310-pound manufacturer of momentum. He is the Tigers' heart and soul, with a true passion for his peers.    

"A lot of it is just pure emotion," Wilkins nodded. "I just get so excited watching my teammates succeed and do their thing on the field, and I just genuinely love being a good teammate. I know that gets other guys excited just to see me rush down, so I'm going to continue to do it, and I love to do it. Like I said, I get excited for my teammates when they make good plays, and I want more good plays to keep happening."

Even with a ring and a rising draft stock, Wilkins will continue to set the tone for a program determined to keep pushing ahead.

"We shouldn't get complacent because we won one," he detailed. "There's still more out there for us. If we want to be a good team, want to be good competitors, want to be good athletes, we can never get complacent and be satisfied with whatever we did, no matter how good it is."

As the roster turns over, Wilkins will make sure the mindset of those who came before him will carry on with those who come after. Wilkins is a respected veteran voice in the Clemson locker room, a distinction he has very much earned. The All-American has a clear and critical message for program newcomers: that there are no shortcuts to success.     

"You've got to let them know early that we didn't just luck up on a national championship. It's not an easy route. It's not an easy path. It's a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation in and out, each and every day," Wilkins stated. "You've just really got to show them that the hard work is the only way to go. Hard work is the only path."

The Tigers, for the first time since 1982, will enter a season as defending national champions. Clemson will have to scratch and claw to maintain that status quo, even early, with the Tigers playing Auburn, at Louisville and at Virginia Tech in the opening month of September. As Clemson pushes towards a repeat, Wilkins will be on the front line -- and he isn't going anywhere but forward.    

There is a new standard for the Tigers, from number 4 to 42. Wilkins is more than just Clemson's best player, he is a prime example of why the Tigers are where they are.  

"Christian is a worker. You know, he's out there after practice every day. He practices hard. He's a coachable kid. He's not a guy that's going to pick his spots. He's going to bring it every day. He's going to compete," head coach Dabo Swinney concluded.  

Wilkins represents Clemson's past, present and future. Though his place in the history books is firmly in place, Wilkins, leading and loving, isn't close to slowing down.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Matt Osborne and Kevin Thomas on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network and is the sports director for multiple ESPN Radio affiliates based throughout southeast Georgia. @BJBennettSports