Live from Miami
Post and Courier beat writer Aaron Brenner has arrived in south Florida with all your news and notes on Clemson, Ohio State and the Orange Bowl. Follow him on Twitter for all the latest updates.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Sammy Watkins has made his decision, and all signs point to the junior wide receiver finishing his Clemson career not too far from home.
After a week of brushing aside the topic of whether he'll enter the 2014 NFL Draft, Watkins was eager to share he does have a plan, and his coaches are aware.
"In the back of my head, I know what I want to do. The coaches know what I want to do," Watkins said Monday in a quiet corner of the media hotel. "But as a player and a leader, we want to wait until after the game. We don't want the focus on me and everything."
Watkins won't publicly declare his intentions just yet, but all signs point to the two-time All-American taking his talents to the professional level after Friday night's Orange Bowl, taking place about an hour and a half from his native Fort Myers.
In fact, Watkins didn't even check with the NFL Draft Advisory board for a draft projection, a common practice for underclassmen.
"I didn't even turn in my grade," Watkins said. "I asked the coaches, should I turn them in? It was like, if you know you're going to be somewhere in that top 15, there's no reason. If you leave, you're going to leave on a good note, and if you don't, we'll welcome you back."
With 3,164 yards already in his grasp, Watkins is just nine receptions (he has 224) and two touchdowns (he has 25) away from holding the triple crown of Clemson career receiving records.
This has been a bounceback year for Watkins. After seeing his production dip in 2012 following a freshman All-American campaign, Watkins was one of three finalists for the Biletkinoff Award - which goes to the nation's top receiver - with 85 receptions, 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns this regular season.
"We needed to get him back into the elite shape he was his freshman year," offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. "A year ago, he wasn't in shape. He was a little heavy, he wasn't quite as explosive, so his endurance wasn't what it should have been.
"So he worked extremely hard this summer to make that happen, and where he's separated himself as one of the top receivers in the country."
Watkins is excited about playing in front of many of his family members and friends.
"I let my mom handle tickets. I'll be waiting to see how many people come down," he said.
He's got a great individual matchup with first-team all-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby, though Roby's status is questionable with a knee injury suffered in the Big Ten Championship game.
"I look forward to going against the best players, and the guys at the same caliber as me," Watkins said. "I watched film on him all week. He's a great, great player. He's definitely entering the draft, so he's definitely capable of managing me."
The one thing that sits raw with Watkins, in his second foray south near his hometown, is the way Clemson was trampled 70-33 in the 2012 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia.
"It did (sting) a lot. I had a lot of people down here that year. We had a great season, my family and our fans really back us up, win or lose," Watkins said. "For us, I think it was more embarrassment because half our team stopped playing. That was our downfall.
"I didn't see guys giving effort at the end of the game. So for us, we've got a totally different team now. We have to go out and handle our business."
In that game, Clemson led West Virginia 17-14 after a quarter, but the Mountaineers' 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, plus three touchdowns in the final 2:29 of the half, sprang a 35-point second quarter to punctuate the rout.
With a more veteran team than two years ago, Watkins is confident Clemson will put forth a better effort, regardless of the result.
"I don't think we have any guys that would quit, hang their heads," Watkins said. "The coaches, us as leaders, we do a great job of managing the game. We know we're going to face adversity during this game. Things are going to happen. They've got a great team; they're going to make plays, just like we are."
As for individual storylines, Watkins is not yet ready to announce anything, saying "This game is not about me. It's about this program and this team."
But there's no doubt Watkins will look to put a positive stamp on his college career, if it does come to an end this week.
"I'm definitely going to be engaged. I want to play, I want to have 3 or 4 TDs. I want to throw that big block," Watkins said. "So if you're thinking you're not going to get my best, you're definitely going to see me play the level I've played at all year."
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