CLEMSON -- Sammy Watkins won Florida's Class AA 200-meter state title this spring and nearly won the 100-meter race. In a state known for speedy athletes, the incoming Clemson wide receiver is among the fastest.
But Watkins is not even the fleetest Tiger in Clemson's 2011 recruiting class. In an impromptu race captured on YouTube, fellow Clemson signee Mike Bellamy beat Watkins by 10 meters in a 400-meter run. Bellamy -- a 100-meter champion in 2010 at Florida's Class AAA level -- is even faster.
The Floridians are welcome additions to a Clemson offense that lacked speed last season. In 2009, Clemson possessed perhaps the fastest duo in the country in Jacoby Ford -- the fastest man at the 2010 NFL Combine -- and C.J. Spiller en route to its first Atlantic Division crown.
"I texted C.J. (Spiller) and I told him I beat his record (in the 200) of 21.35 (seconds)," Watkins told the News-Press (Fla.) after running a 21.11 to win the Class AA Florida state title. "He said that was in high school. In college he ran 20.7. I said I'd be running 20.4."
The speed will be especially critical to new offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who wants to stretch the field vertically much more than Clemson did last season.
"For whatever reason, a down-field element was missing (last year)," Morris said. "It was nobody's fault. There was a lack of ability to stretch the field deep. They really didn't have a guy that would make people go 'Oh my, we have to watch that guy.' "
Now Clemson will have at least two threats in Watkins and Bellamy.
A third burner, redshirt freshman Joe Craig, has been suspended from the team following a fight with a female track athlete at Clemson. His status for the fall has not been decided.
Just how fast is Bellamy, the first five-star rated running back to leave Florida for an out-of-state ACC school since Spiller?
Jerry Voss, Bellamy's track coach at Charlotte (Fla.) High, said he has timed Bellamy at 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"It was hand-timed, it wasn't electronic, so you have to use some discretion," Voss said. "He's a quick kid. The thing about him is he plays just as fast on the football field as he does on a track. Some track guys don't translate to football. He does."
The speed translated to more than 5,000 career rushing yards as a prep star, speed and production leading Bellamy to predict he will win a Heisman at Clemson in an interview with the Sporting News earlier this year. Perhaps the only knock on Bellamy is his slight stature (5-11, 170), but it still shouldn't hold Bellamy back from competing for early playing time in a backfield weakened by the departure of Jamie Harper and with Andre Ellington coming off of foot surgery.
While a step slower than Bellamy, Watkins might even have more potential to impact the offense.
His high school coach Grant Redhead said he's timed the 6-1, 200-pound receiver at 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Even if the 40-time is generous, Redhead says Watkins possesses elite foot quickness, polished route-running skills and has the strongest hands he's seen.
Can he jump?
Redhead said he's never measured his vertical leap, but he has a photograph of Watkins rising to the waist-level of a six-foot defensive back.
"It's hard to say he has a weakness," Redhead said.
Watkins might help in another area where former speedsters Ford and Spiller impacted games for Clemson: the return game.
Of all the amazing things Redhead has seen from Watkins, perhaps the best performance was a playoff game last year against Southeast Bradenton -- the alma mater of former Florida State star Peter Warrick, with whom Watkins draws comparisons, too. In the game, Watkins scored on a 60-yard fake punt and later took a one-bounce punt back 60 yards for a touchdown.
If everything goes right, the Florida duo will be Clemson's new Spiller and Ford, arriving not a moment too soon.
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