Clemson's Sammy Watkins: 'I accomplished every goal'
CLEMSON - There was never any doubt. Sammy Watkins would relocate his mojo and move along in his quest of playing in the NFL.
"That's how I approached this season," Watkins said during his own Friday press conference, for the final time wearing his trademark Clemson hooded sweatshirt.
"The coaches approached this season as they're going to get the best out of me, they're going to get the ball to me, and I've got to be a complete player, but also be a leader on and off the field."
No one can blame Watkins, the consensus first-team freshman All-American in 2011 and first-team All-American in 2013, for skipping his senior year with the Tigers. His stock is sky-high, almost assuredly a top-10 draft selection and likely to be the first wide receiver picked off the board this May.
On the tic-tac-toe board of Clemson school receiving records - catches, yards and touchdowns in a game, season or career - Watkins owns or co-owns seven of the nine possible marks.
He holds every major receptions and yards record; only his 2011-12 teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, has him beat in single-game and single-season scores, though Hopkins and Watkins each had 27 touchdowns in their three-year Clemson careers.
Still, Watkins considers the combination of his 91-yard touchdown at Syracuse and 96-yard score at Virginia his most cherished memory; no other receiver topped 90 yards twice this season.
"Getting those two touchdowns to break the game open and end the game on a winning streak," Watkins said, "I definitely didn't do that my freshman year or any other year."
It was one of the few accomplishments he didn't have in 2011, when he burst onto the national scene with 82 catches, 1,219 yards and 12 scores. After a sophomore slump (57, 708 and 3), Watkins worked tirelessly into the offseason to improve his stamina and durability, exploding for 101 catches for 1,464 yards (both school records) and 12 touchdowns.
"The coaches did a great job of working with me," Watkins said, "getting me back to that same Sammy Watkins my freshman year."
Watkins, who will train in Tampa, Fla., in an intimate setting away from the masses of fellow draft hopefuls, was effusive in his praise of his coaches, teammates and Clemson fans.
"It's been a pleasure being here these last three years and growing as a young man," Watkins said. "I think I have maximized my opportunity here . it comes down to a business aspect, something I have to do. Not saying I won't miss Clemson, but I think I can go into the NFL and be that dominant receiver making a lot of plays."
Watkins listed the Buffalo Bills as his favorite team as a child, even before ex-Clemson running back C.J. Spiller went there in 2009. A Fort Myers, Fla., native, Watkins also expressed love for his hometown Miami Dolphins, as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
None of those teams made the NFL playoffs this year. The Jaguars have the third overall pick, followed by Tampa Bay at No. 7, Buffalo at No. 9 and Miami at No. 19.
"Right now, they're doing a bad job," Watkins said, "but hopefully they'll get back on the right page."
One of the few bumps in Watkins' road - a potential lynchpin for his rough sophomore season - was an offseason drug arrest, which took the first two 2012 games away from Watkins.
"Everyone thinks of that as a bad point in my life. That helped me out," Watkins said. "That made me see the bigger picture, that a lot of kids look up to me. As a young guy, I didn't know I was this big star football player, I was just going out there playing football, doing the thing I loved to do.
"I definitely had to reevaluate myself, and fix the little things I was doing in my life - partying and not doing the right things. (My team) respected me more for stepping up and doing what I had to do with the law and all the hours I put in with community service, speaking out and reaching out with the kids to not do bad things and be with bad people."
Watkins was asked if he has any regrets. He shook his head.
"I accomplished every goal I came here with," Watkins said. "Since I've been here, I've tried to be the best player, best citizen (I can.) Clemson helped me grow in both areas, and I have grown."