The recruitment of Sammy Watkins

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The recruitment of Sammy Watkins

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – When the Tigers landed receiver Sammy WatkinsSammy Watkins
Fr. Wide Receiver
#2 6-1, 200
Fort Myers, FL

View Full Profile
in the 2011 recruiting class, most people thought he would be one of the many pieces that would fit into Chad Morris’ up-tempo offense, and they were right as he has been that and more.

Much more.

The Fort Myers native has garnered just about every award the national media can offer up, including earning AP First Team All-American honors, joining Herschel Walker and Adrian Peterson as the only true freshman to achieve first team status.

As a result, whenever Watkins is interviewed by out-of-town media, the questions always seem to turn to ‘Why Clemson?’ A reporter for the Miami Herald grilled Watkins on Thursday about his decision to become a Tiger instead of staying close to home and becoming a Miami Hurricane or even staying in-state to go to Florida St. or Florida.

For those who love Clemson or cover the school on a regular basis, the answer to ‘Why Clemson’ is easy. It is a special place, and one visit can make someone fall in love with ‘those hills’ for a lifetime. For outsiders, however, the answer isn’t that easy and Watkins is grilled incessantly about his decision.

At Friday’s practice, Watkins’ high school coaches were on hand to watch their former pupil so I decided to take the time to ask them what were their thoughts were – from someone outside of the Clemson family – on how the Tigers landed Watkins and while many answers were about what you would expect there were a few surprises.

It was no surprise to learn, however, that landing a player the caliber of Watkins was a long-term effort of Brad Scott and the Clemson coaching staff. The first person I spoke with was Watkins’ coach on the junior varsity, Joe Hampton.

Coach Hamp, as he is called, has been a head coach on the varsity level for many years, and he said that when he first saw Watkins he knew he had someone special.

“When he first came in that summer before his ninth grade year,” Hampton said. “It is then that you start finding your best athletes and try to see who can run, who can throw and who can do the little things. That is where you kind of pick them out, and you could see really quickly that he had fantastic athletic ability. So you are going to put your best guy at the signal caller. He and another kid were going to be the quarterbacks.”

The more he was around Watkins, the more he realized he had a special player who was destined for the collegiate level, and he started letting college coaches know what he had.

“The guys that I have known for years in the coaching profession and who were recruiting when I was head coach I told them,” Hampton said. “When they came by to see me or something I would tell them. I would tell them that they needed to keep their eye on him and that he had a lot of athletic ability. I also told them that he was a great kid and that they needed to follow him.”
Despite Hampton’s insistence that Watkins could be a difference-maker for a college program, there was one coach that did what it took to get Watkins in a Tiger uniform.

“Coach [Brad] Scott pursued him the hardest and stayed on it,” Hampton said. “I have known Brad for 30 years, and he believed me when I told him. He respected what I told him, and he built that relationship early. And that is what it takes.”

The in-state schools were behind the curve from the beginning.

“I told the Florida St. coaches stuff about him and that he was there,” Hampton said. “But, it wasn’t really serious. Then they made the mistake of not coming by to visit one time when they were supposed to. They were supposed to come by during practice and they didn’t even show up. I told them, ‘Y’all have blown it.’ And Brad just continued to stay with it.”

Hampton quickly turned Watkins over to South Fort Myers head coach Grant Redhead, who said that Clemson’s coaches quickly set themselves apart when dealing with young athletes.

“Kids aren’t stupid. They can tell people’s personality and they can tell their demeanor,” Redhead said. “And he could tell that Brad Scott was genuine. He could tell the Clemson coaching staff was genuine. They weren’t telling him just what he wanted to hear. I see them come in and out all the time. Some guys are like used car salesmen, and some guys are down to earth. He picked a staff that is a lot similar to the guys I have working with me. It is a business but we have fun with the kids, too, and we joke around with them. And then when he went up there for the football camp, he just fell in love with it.”

As a result of so many years of hard work, the Tigers are now reaping the benefits of having a player like Watkins. Not even his high school head coach, however, could see just how much of an impact Watkins would make.

“I expected him to come in and be a role player,” Redhead said. “I expected to him come in and challenge for playing time and do some good things. For him to make the transition from being our star to being one of the stars at Clemson was pleasantly surprising. We were really happy for him. He put in the work, and we never had an issue with him putting the work in. That kid’s desire and work ethic got him there.”

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