|by Nikki Steele|
The last time the former Clemson All-American played at the home of the Carolina Panthers was in 2011 in the ACC Championship Game, and as he exited the field that night as an ACC Champion, Tiger fans were shouting Clemson’s famous Cadence Count cheer. This time he exited to the same tune as his new team – the Buffalo Bills – beat the Panthers 20-18 Friday night.
Watkins played just three series in the Bills’ second preseason game, but caught the first three passes of his NFL career, and did it in front of plenty of orange jerseys and shirts in Watkins’ first visit to the stadium since the Tigers won the 2011 ACC Championship over Virginia Tech.
Watkins told the media after the game that playing in front of a home – Clemson – crowd helped him transition his game to the NFL.
“Playing in this stadium just made my transition even easier,” Watkins said during the postgame press conference Friday night. “I got to thinking that I’ve already played in this stadium in front of 70,000 or 80,000 Clemson fans and it just made my transition all the easier. Having all of my Clemson fans here to support me made it feel like a college game as they were screaming my name.”
Making Watkins transition even easier is having several former Clemson players already on the Bills roster to show him the ropes.
“Most definitely. There were a lot of Clemson fans here supporting us,” Watkins said. “We have a lot of guys that came from Clemson on our team – me, C.J. [Spiller], Jonathan Meeks and a bunch of others. I feel like the Clemson fans really showed up and supported us all tonight.”
And, having Spiller – who was instrumental in getting Watkins to Clemson as well as Buffalo – helps even more.
“Of course. C.J. is a big help. He’s right there whenever I mess up letting me know what I did wrong,” Watkins said. “Me and him and Meeks – we work out a lot together after practice, which really helps.”
The fourth overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft caught three passes for 21 yards before leaving late in the first quarter, but it was the first catch of his young professional career that got him on track.
"It was a crazy feeling. It was great to get my first catch from E.J. I kind of got all of my butterflies out and I was really able to turn it on after that,” Watkins said. “I was able to get into a groove. It felt good to just get my first catch and get the first down. It felt great and I got into the game."
The Clemson Bills post game. Bills win on Meeks interception. pic.twitter.com/gHckgLhX7l— Tim Bourret (@TimBourret) August 9, 2014
Nikki Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org