Clemson freshman WR Sammy Watkins wowing ACC
Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins finally looked like a freshman early on against Maryland - and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney called him on it.
Watkins, who has performed more like an all-ACC selection than a first-year player, had an early punt muff that led to the Terps' first touchdown Saturday night. And when he got to the sidelines, Swinney told him, ''You owe me now.''
Watkins answered, ''I got you, coach.''
Just like he has all season - not just in eighth-ranked Clemson's 56-45 victory against Maryland.
Watkins broke C.J. Spiller's school record with 345 all-purpose yards - the fourth-best performance in Atlantic Coast Conference history - and earned league honors as receiver and rookie of the week.
His eight touchdowns have doubled Clemson's previous best for freshman and he's three away from Aaron Kelly's single-season record of 11 TDs. He's got 46 catches for 728 yards, also a Tigers freshman record. His four games 100-yard receiving games is two shy of Clemson's best in a season.
''Sammy's one of those special guys,'' tight end Dwayne Allen marveled.
He and the eighth-ranked Tigers (7-0, 4-0 ACC) hope to continue their unbeaten season against North Carolina at Death Valley on Saturday.
The humble Watkins has handled his success with maturity.
He continually credits teammates for any success and said for fun, he goes to Clemson's Vickery Hall to study and catch up on school work.
However, he appeared a bit rattled early at Maryland with a couple of special team errors, the most costly being a mishandled punt that the Terps took in for their first touchdown on the way to a 28-10 lead.
But offensive coordinator Chad Morris kept Watkins head up and knew the competitor in him would emerge. It did in the final period with the Tigers down 45-42 following Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg's 32-yard touchdown pass.
Watkins, already with acrobatic touchdown grabs of 15 and 13 yards, took the kickoff through Maryland's coverage and outraced the kicker for the go-ahead score.
A simple flip of the football to the referee and Watkins was ready for Clemson's next play. No celebration. That's never been Watkins' style and probably the biggest reason he chose Clemson.
Watkins has followed Spiller, another Florida native who found success with the Tigers as the 2009 ACC player of the year and a first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills. Clemson's rural, quiet setting, though, sealed things for Watkins.
''I like this place because it's hard to get in trouble. You've got to find it, or do something very stupid, to get in trouble,'' Watkins said. ''I like it here because there's not too much going on.''
It wasn't that way for Watkins growing up in Fort Myers, Fla. He said his neighborhood was filled with crime and drugs, and others forcing you into that lifestyle. Watkins escaped it through school and football at South Fort Myers High where he said his life was classes, football practice and workouts and studying.
When Watkins talent made him the focus of colleges throughout the region, he was careful to find somewhere those things weren't an issue.
''I wanted to get away from all that,'' he said.
Clemson has celebrated Watkins since he arrived - even if the freshman doesn't always join in.
Morris acknowledged the 18-year-old Watkins' low-key nature isn't typical of many young college football stars these days.
''He's far more mature than his age really is,'' the first-year coordinator said.
Watkins said he doesn't go out much, spending his time with teammates or studying up on the Tigers next opponent. That's bad news for the Tar Heels (5-2, 1-2).
''Obviously, Sammy Watkins is talented, fast, athletic, all those things,'' North Carolina coach Everett Withers said. ''Maybe one of the best, if not the best, player in the country right now with all the things he can do.''
Watkins looks certain to play in the NFL one day, a likely first-round draft pick when he decides it's time to go pro. Until then, he'll keep the same, grounded approach to the game he's always taken and chase his goal of a successful life, no matter the profession.
''I just want to do all the right things the right way,'' Watkins said. ''Hopefully, I'll go to the NFL. I've got the talent, I just have to keep my head up and do what I've been doing.''