If the college football world has any questions regarding who will step up as a leader for the Clemson defense with the departure of last season’s leader Ben Boulware– the need not look any further than Christian Wilkins.
The outgoing rising junior believes that the lessons learned from the “junkyard dog” will help him to, hopefully, lead a Tiger defense that is expected to have the Tigers contending for another appearance in the College Football Playoff.
“Me and Ben have very similar personalities, but very different. He’s fun-loving as well, but in some ways, I feel like I’m more outgoing than he was,” Wilkins said. “He was just kind of a tough guy. Like, I don’t really care what anybody else has to say. He’s willing to get in, and get on his teammates– just wiling to be that leader. I learned a lot from been personally, and that’s was to allow me to be a good leader and be a good face of the program.”
“That’s one of things I picked up from them, is it doesn’t matter what people think as long as you do what you gotta do on the field. As long as your team loves you, and that’s all that matters.”
There is one area, however, where Wilkins admits he will never be able to match the standard set by the former linebacker—fashion.
Last season, Boulware drew rave reviews from the social media world when he showed up at the ACC Kickoff in white capris pants, a pastel shirt and pink tie. But, even though Wilkins may not have Boulware’s sense of style, he has something that Boulware did not.
You know he dressed up, he looked good but I’m sexy. And that’s the art– being sexy is an art. And I know how to pull off being sexy, he knew how to pull off some good clothes,” Wilkins said.
All joking aside for Wilkins, the goals for this 2017 Clemson Tigers are the same ones that they have been since he arrived from Springfield, Massachusetts in 2015—to compete for a national title.
While many are asking questions such as, “How do you fight the complacency after winning it all last season?” Wilkins does not see the Tigers victory last year as a reason for complacency—he sees it as fuel to the fire.
“Personally, that pushes me, and drives me even more after winning one,” Wilkins said. “Because, the biggest thing is having experience winning the national championship– I know the hardware that went into it. I know what it takes. And after achieving that– you know all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. The grind each and every day with her brothers that only makes me more hungry. Because I want to do it again. I want to know what it feels like to have two national championships under my belt. Why just be satisfied with one. Never be complacent, you want to be great and you won’t ever be great if you’re complacent.”
While the celebration over the Tigers’ first national championship in 35 years has not stopped for the fans since the early morning hours of Jan. 10, it was already in the rearview mirror for the Tigers two weeks following that historic night.
“We were allowed to kind of the on a high for the two weeks after, and that was about it,” Wilkins said. “You had everybody pat you on the back, we had to be in school the day after the national championship, you’ve got everybody loving you and patting you on the back and telling you how good you did, but once we got back into those workouts we knew we were starting over.
“Guys were grinding guys were getting after it. Once matt drills started the coaches are telling you good job, you did a great job in the season– they’re getting after you. There telling you to run through the line, run through the finish and things like that. It was really back into full effect right away, pretty much. You’ve got to start over, because nothing that happened last year is going to help us this year.”
Even after winning it all last season, the Tigers seem to once again be relegated back to their place of underdog—having been picked to finish second in the ACC Atlantic Division behind, the media’s pick to win the conference title, Florida State—a team the Tigers have beaten back-to-back years and host in Death Valley this season.
However, for Wilkins, the idea of being doubted in the world of college football is something that he is used to, because Clemson has always been in the underdog.
“I feel I Clemson has always been in the business of proving people wrong,” Wilkins said. “The biggest thing you got a block out the distractions and just control what you control. But it’s tough in today’s world, in today’s day and age, to block out those distractions because it’s everywhere. Social media– someone’s always talking about it, whatever. But when you do hear it a lot of those haters and those naysayers will be your motivators, and just grow from it. Just beat the odds.”