By Eric Boynton / Spartanburg Herald-Journal
If one is trying to track down Christian Wilkins around any part of Clemson’s sprawling football facilities, the best path is to simply look for the smiles and follow the sound of laughter.
The All-American, all everything, defensive tackle has served as the pied piper of joy in and around the Tigers’ ultra-successful program for most all of his four years on campus. A model of how to live the most fulfilling and well-rounded student-athlete experience, Wilkins has made sure to always take the soulful light that burns bright within and reflect it onto anybody within his daily existence.
“I can’t recall him ever having a bad day, to be honest,” defensive end Austin Bryant said. “I guess he doesn’t have them. It’s just his personality, he always wants to be the life of the party. It’s just really good to have his energy in the room.”
Arguably the most impressive facet of Wilkins’ college career has been his mastery of time management. Apparently not a second in any day is wasted if you consider what he’s done off the field to complement his elite achievements on game days.
Wilkins, who turned 23 just over two weeks ago, became the first Clemson football scholarship player to graduate (with a communications degree) in 2½ years. He added a master’s degree in athletic leadership at last month’s second graduation. He’s a three-time ACC All-Academic selection and two time Academic All-District choice while never posting below a 3.0 GPA.
Those exploits helped him become the first Clemson player to win the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented by the National Football Foundation to the nation’s top scholar-athlete and widely referred to as the “academic Heisman.”
Combine all his school-related activities — Wilkins even spent time this offseason as a substitute teacher at a local middle school — with his considerable football resume and it’s been nothing short of remarkable. And to think, Wilkins could be completing year one of a multimillion-dollar NFL contract had he decided to leave school after last season as so many expected he’d do. He remains projected as a solid first-round pick this spring.
“I think he made a decision to come back and he’s been so intentional in everything,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think he’s truly enjoyed the entire journey, all of it. I think he’s been so committed to what he came back to do. You don’t make a decision like that unless you really love where you are, who you’re with, and what you do. And last year he was torn (with making a decision) and I think it was heavy on him, whereas now he knows this is it.”
Wilkins added, “It’s been everything I wanted out of this season, everything I expected and more, on the field and off the field. I’ve had the best time I’ve had in my four years here and I’m just trying to leave my mark and leave a legacy.”
Swinney points out the lineman turned fullback Dexter Lawrence doing everything from playing safety in the team’s spring game to being among the players who volunteered the week of homecoming to hand out pizza to those constructing the parade floats. Of course Wilkins lived the ultimate lineman’s dream when he scored two touchdowns this season as a tailback in the team’s “jumbo package” running behind Lawrence. He was the program’s first defensive lineman to rush for a touchdown — and this is the school that produced William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who ran one in during a Super Bowl.
“He has just had a blast,” Swinney said. “He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around, just a dynamic personality, but he’s also a great football player and has taken such great care of his body. (On the field) he’s been awesome, disruptive and consistent. I think he just loves the whole college experience.”
Wilkins’ 58 career games played are the most in school history and he’s a three time first-team All-American by multiple outlets and a three time All-ACC first-team choice. He’s fifth on the team with 53 tackles, second with 14 for loss, and third with 5½ sacks. Clemson leads the nation in fewest points allowed per game (12.9) and is second in both total yards allowed (274.6) and rushing yards (92.6). The Tigers are 54-4 with four playoff berths and now three national championship appearances over Wilkins’ career.