Clemson's Sammy Watkins plays above age

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
9:00
AM ET
This past summer, Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen kept watching, waiting for true freshman Sammy Watkins to act his age.

Go to the wrong locker. Wear the wrong uniform. Get lost on campus. Get leveled at practice. Anything.

It never happened.

"Sammy steps on campus at 6-2, 205-210 -- he’s put together, now -- and I’m just like, 'Let's see what he does in our first summer workouts,'" Allen said. "We go out for summer workouts and he burns by people. I’m like, 'OK, that’s going to stop in fall camp when we put the pads on.' We put the pads on, and we were going through blocking drills, Sammy was running full speed, low, running through guys, blocking his tail off, and I’m like, 'Does he catch every pass, too?' I just keep looking for holes, and I tell you, there are none."

[+] EnlargeClemson's Sammy Watkins
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMI Sammy Watkins accounts for 89 of his school-record 345 all-purpose yards with this kickoff return for a touchdown against Maryland.
At only 18 years old, Watkins has made it easy to forget he is only a true freshman. After all, Watkins already owns 11 school freshman records and he’s on pace to set more with five games remaining. Watkins has captured the attention of college football fans across the country with his speed, his exciting versatility, and his uncanny ability to single-handedly change a game. Equally if not more impressive, though, has been his maturity off the field. He’s a regular in the academic center, has developed a reputation for his business-like attitude on and off the field, and he has managed to remain humble despite the abundance of individual and team success this year.

“(Receivers) coach (Jeff Scott) tells me, ‘Don’t be a typical freshman,’ so I can’t do what all the other freshmen do,” he said. “Like being late, dressing up in the wrong stuff, or getting into trouble and not making the tutoring and stuff like that.

“I just know from my point of view, I just have to keep working and getting better and better,” he said. “I can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m a freshman, I got this or that.’ That doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I have to keep performing every game.”

Watkins' combination of talent and attitude should concern the rest of the ACC. And it does.

“I don’t know if anybody’s got somebody that can cover Sammy Watkins," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. "What I watched Saturday night, I’d have to call him right now the best player in college football. He’s a brand new ‘Cat, but good gosh! He looked like that on tape too. The only thing I know to cover him is to have him arrested before the ballgame.”

And it's just the beginning. Much like No. 7 Clemson as a team, Watkins has yet to reach his peak.

“He’s smart enough to know that he has not arrived, and he has one of the best work ethics on our football team,” said former offensive line coach Brad Scott, who recruited Watkins with his son, receivers coach Jeff Scott. “… He keeps it all in perspective. That’s what I think is pretty unique about him.”

That and his instant success.

Watkins enters Saturday’s game against North Carolina ranked No. 10 in the nation in all-purpose running (172.1) and No. 18 in receiving yards per game (104). He is tied for third in touchdown receptions with eight.

His 345 all-purpose yards in last week’s 56-45 win over Maryland were not only a Clemson record, but the fourth-highest single game total in ACC history.

“His performance at Maryland was one of the best individual performances I’ve seen since -- who’s that one guy we had a couple of years ago, C.J. Spiller?” Allen said with a laugh.

Watkins broke Spiller’s all-purpose yardage record last week and now has 46 receptions for 728 yards and eight touchdowns, all school freshman records. He leads all freshmen nationally in reception yards per game, all-purpose running yards per game and touchdown receptions.

“He looks like Spider-Man," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "The ball just sticks to his hands."

Brad Scott, who has since moved into an administrative role as director or recruiting, began watching Watkins at South Fort Myers High in Florida in the spring before his sophomore season.

“I’ve coached for a little over 32 years, so you’ve seen some good players, and I was around some good teams,” Scott said. “As I kept watching him into his senior year ... the further along I just kept seeing him doing some amazing things in a high school game and having the ability to single-handedly put his team on his back and carry them to victory.

“I remember walking away the last game I saw him in, just kind of shaking my head and thinking, ‘Hey, this guy could be really special,’” Scott said. “He’s right up there in the category with some of the very best I’ve ever seen in high school.”

Despite the fact he was oozing with potential, Watkins was given no promises about playing time. In fact, he said he was surprised he cracked the starting lineup so early. It wasn’t until the week of the Auburn game that Watkins realized just how much of a factor he was expected to be in the new offense. The coaches had designed the plays for Watkins to be the first option, and he has repeatedly come through for them and first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd.

“When God made this one,” Swinney said, “He was in a great mood that day.”

Not a bad start -- for a freshman.

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