Can Clemson win without Watkins? Tigers will find out as star is suspended for first two games
CLEMSON — Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney said his team’s performance is not dependent on one player on Friday. The Tigers will find out early in the season if that is an accurate assessment.
Swinney announced Friday that star receiver Sammy Watkins, the preseason ACC player of the year, will be suspended for the first two games of the season, which includes a high-profile matchup with Auburn on Sept. 1 in Atlanta and the home opener against Ball State the following week.
The punishment’s announcement came on the first day of training camp and 91 days after Watkins was arrested on May 4 after he was pulled over and found to be in possession of marijuana and a controlled substance commonly used to treat ADHD, for which he did not have a prescription.
Some in the public thought the two-game suspension was too severe. Swinney said the two-game ban was on the low end of the punishment scale he had set for Watkins in May.
“I told him in May it was either going to be two games or four games,” Swinney said. “I’m glad I didn’t make an emotional decision or the punishment would have been greater.”
Swinney said he made the decision on his own, without other advice or demands from higher-ups at the university. Swinney did not address why the decision took three months to make other than noting Watkins’ had to meet performance benchmark this offseason to avoid a more severe suspension.
Swinney said he met with Watkins’ attorney before making the decision.
“He has done everything we have asked and then some,” Swinney said. “The game of football, or a game of football, will never be more important to me than teaching young people important life lessons.
“There are consequences for your actions.”
Watkins met with the media for the first time since his arrest Friday and said he would accept the punishment.
“It’s humbled me as a young man,” Watkins said. “It showed me a good lesson.”
The suspension damages Watkins’ candidacy for the Heisman and other postseason awards, which he was expecte to contend for.
While Clemson will be without its best player to open the season — Watkins set school records with 82 catches and 1,219 receiving yards last season as a freshman — quarterback Tajh Boyd noted that the program is deep at receiver. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was nearly a 1,000-yard receiver last year, and talented sophomores Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries are also expected to see their roles increase this season.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Boyd said. “But it will give other guys an opportunity.”
Parker to likely redshirt
Swinney also announced junior linebacker Justin Parker will likely redshirt in 2012. Parker is dealing with a painful groin injury that has been slow to heal.
“We are going to try to steal a year back,” Swinney said. “We should have redshirted him (earlier in Parker’s career).”