Sammy Watkins (Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE)
By Craig Handel (Fort Myers Fla. News-Press)--Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris calls it his seven- minute meeting. "For seven minutes I talk and they listen," he said. "It's pretty straightforward."
When Morris met Sammy Watkins this past spring, the Tigers' talented wide receiver didn't blink.
"He said, 'You're not the same,' " Watkins said. "I said, 'Coach, I know.' That's on me. I didn't train the right way, prepare the right way, practice, anything, the same way."
After a sterling freshman season, Watkins became human - in more ways than one - as a sophomore. He got in trouble, he didn't work out as hard, he got sick. As his stepfather, James McMiller, said, "It was time to become a man."
This season, Watkins returned to his dynamic ways. He opened the season with a scintillating 77-yard catchand- run vs. Georgia. He had only one game in which he caught fewer than four passes, and that was the following week in a 52-13 rout of South Carolina State.
Those efforts have led many NFL draft analysts projecting Watkins being a top 10 pick in May.
Watkins said he has accomplished just about everything he wants, though he'd like to help Clemson win the Orange Bowl and have a big game in the process.
"I definitely evaluated myself throughout the course of the year, and I listened to the things they wanted me to do," Watkins said. "I think I grew as a mature player just learning the game."
He also learned about himself.
Losing in the 2012 Orange Bowl was the start of what likely has been the toughest year in Watkins' career.
But also the most important.
He had all that success so early. All those awards. Nobody told him he could do wrong. "Here's an 18-year-old kid coming out of high school to a bigger level, a level you dreamed about playing and you come in and do exactly what you thought you could do," McMiller said. "On top of that, Sammy's doing good in school, so his mom says, 'Get him a car.' For a young kid who's famous, you have your own car and no parental guidance, you're gonna make some mistakes."
Two months after the bowl game - a 70-33 loss to West Virginia - Watkins was pulled over by police while the car he drove scraped against a curb on campus. Watkins was charged with possession of a controlled substance and simple possession of marijuana, both misdemeanors. Watkins was demoted to the scout team and suspended.
"That was a lesson," McMiller said. "That made him better." Watkins' sophomore season included respiratory issues and an infection the week of the Florida State game.
While his per game numbers rivaled his freshman year, his snaps dipped from 656 to 403 and his receiving touchdowns dropped from 12 to three.
On Dec. 31 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Watkins' season ended with an injury. He played just one play.
"I think it was a wakeup call for him," tailback Rod McDowell said.
Watkins vowed that 2013 would be different. He ran so much, people mistook him for Forrest Gump. He also mixed yoga and gymnastics along with weightlifting. In the searing South Carolina summer heat, quarterback Tajh Boyd remembers him wearing a hoodie during 7-on-7.
Watkins said he drinks about a gallon of water per day. His weight has gone from 212 to 200 as he returned to being in elite track shape.
In addition, his parents moved to the Clemson area to keep an eye on their son.
While all signs point toward Watkins' early entry to the NFL, he doesn't want to announce it yet and put himself above the team.
McMiller said tht with as much success as Watkins has had, he's more proud of what he accomplished after his challenges as a sophomore than anything he accomplished as a freshman or junior.
"If you ever have to face adversity, you don't want it to hold you down. You want to conquer it. And that's what he did."
DISCOVER ORANGE BOWL
Who: Clemson vs. Ohio State When: Friday, 8:30 p.m. TV: ESPN