Wilkins celebrates his touchdown reception against Troy

"Slash" Wilkins ready to add another job title to his resume: Team Leader

by - Senior Writer -

CHARLOTTE, NC – Christian Wilkins does a little bit of everything for the Clemson football team. He plays defensive tackle and can play defensive end when needed. He catches passes on fake punts. He catches touchdown passes. And now he’s ready to add another job title to his resume.

Team leader.

Wilkins is one of the nation's most versatile defensive linemen, having started at defensive end as a sophomore after playing tackle his first season. He will move back to tackle this season, and he has 140 tackles, 17.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks in 1,159 career snaps over 30 games (16 starts). He also caught a pass on a fake punt against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in 2015, caught a touchdown pass in the Jumbo package against Troy early in the 2016 and later converted a fake punt into a first down on a 10-yard rush against N.C. State.

It’s that versatility that has Wilkins on several preseason watch lists, including the Paul Hornung, the Outland Trophy and the Bednarik Trophy.

But with the graduation of linebacker Ben Boulware, the fiery and vocal leader of the defense the last few years, there is an opening in the leadership department.

“More of the leadership focus is on me. Definitely, as a leader, I’m trying to step up a lot more and just get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Wilkins said Thursday at the ACC Kickoff. “Be that guy that’s going to get on his teammates and hold them to the highest standard possible. I feel like I’m prepared for that because I had guys before me who have done that.”

It's a role he wants to embrace.

“It’s easy to sit back and just watch someone else do that. But I’m going to have to be uncomfortable by doing that and allow myself to hold everybody to the highest standard. Even when I’m tired, to push through it and just be the example when times get tough,” Wilkins said. “I’ve always been a guy who’s tried to hold their teammates to the best standard. I’ve always been someone who’s tried to work as hard as I could. It’s just different because now I’ll be more vocal about it. I just have to be the leader for the defense.”

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says Wilkins is one of the nation’s best players, regardless of position.

“He’s made All-American at D-tackle and D-end. That’s easier said than done,” Swinney said. “That’s like making All-American at tight end and wide receiver, literally. That would be the way I’d compare that. That’s a lot of versatility. He’s a matchup problem and gives us flexibility.”

Wilkins told the media that he will graduate in December, just two-and-a-half years after setting foot on campus.

“The way I look at it is I wanted to get my degree in two and a half years coming in because my education is paid for. It’s free. I wanted to set myself up with a lot of options,” Wilkins said. “I did this before I knew how good I was going to be, if I was going to be potentially ready for the NFL or whatever. I was preparing myself for whatever comes next.

“After I get this degree, if I decide to stay, I have plans to get my master’s so I can work on that. It’s not just a plan just to take the next step.”

Does that mean he’s a lock to enter the NFL draft after his junior season?

“I’m not focusing on that right now. I’m just focusing really on the season,” he said. “I want to have a lot of options that way if I do decide (to leave) I’ll have a degree.”

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