CHARLOTTE— Most college football teams would love to have a dominant defensive lineman to help contain opposing offenses. The lucky few have two such linemen, but the 2017 Clemson Tigers may have four defensive linemen that fit that bill.
However, it is two of these defensive linemen–2016 Nagurski finalist, Bednarik semifinalist and first-team All-American (AFCA, FWAA and Phil Steele) Christian Wilkins and freshman All-American and ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Dexter Lawrence that are drawing talk of being the most dangerous duo in the nation.
But if you ask Wilkins, the scary thing for opponents is that they have not reached their potential as defenders.
“I’m really looking forward to what me and Dexter are able to do. There’s a lot to talk about that, but we both know we’ve got to put in the work,” Wilkins said. “There’s a lot of—we both have a lot of potential and we both haven’t reached out fullest potential yet as football players, and I’m pushing him every day and he’s pushing me.
“And it’s not only us, but everybody else on the D-line. Cle (Clelin Ferrell), Austin (Bryant), all the other Power Rangers on the D-line. I’m pushing them to be their best and they’re all pushing me to be my best, as well.”
It is a defensive line, that as a whole, is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to ESPN—but Wilkins is not worried about the ranking of the unit, he is worried about the ranking for the Tigers team at the end of the season.
“What I’m trying to convey to the rest of the team and just encourage guys what to think or how to think is it was a greater accomplishment to reach one National Championship and win that, but really just why not win two,” Wilkins said. “Just me trying being a leader now on the team.
“I’ve just got to remind guys who maybe have not played as much or guys who are looking to fill roles and fill spots that there’s a reason they’re at Clemson. They came here because they have the talent and the ability, and just make them feel confident and comfortable in their own abilities.”
And it is that goal that has Wilkins imploring his teammates to not settle for anything less than the best they have.
With a defense that is expected by many to have this year’s team back in the hunt for a birth in the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive year, and with a defensive front-line that has been called, not just the best in college football, but the best in the history of the program—one might think that the Tigers would feel confident about their ability to handle their opponents.
But that is the furthest thing from the truth for Wilkins and his Tiger teammates, as he stated the focus this season is not getting complacent just because the Tigers climbed to the top of the mountain last season.
“We shouldn’t get complacent because we won one,” Wilkins said. “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.
“There’s always room to improve, and there’s always more out there for us, and we can definitely get better from last year because we weren’t perfect even though we did win the National Championship.”
Teaching the cubs:
As a junior and the undisputed leader of the Tiger defense, following Ben Boulware’s graduation, Wilkins wasted little time letting the freshmen, who did not get to experience last season’s journey to a national title victory, that is will not be easy and it will be a grind every day to get back.
“You’ve got to let them know early that we didn’t just luck up on a National Championship,” Wilkins said. “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, and you’ve got to be ready for each and every game, and this is a tough league, too.
“The ACC is the best league in college football, and you can get beat each and every day, so you’ve really got to be on it because you never know.”