Wilkins excited, not nervous, for season opener


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Wilkins finished with 84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss last season.
Wilkins finished with 84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss last season.

CLEMSON -- Christian Wilkins said facing an SEC opponent on the road at night to open his sophomore season is no different than his Clemson debut last year against Wofford.

The Tigers kick off their season Saturday night at Auburn, and Wilkins is excited, not nervous, for the opener.

“I usually don’t get nervous for games,” he said. “I get excited and anxious and stuff but no butterflies or anything like that. Just ready to play, really. It doesn’t really matter (who the opponent is); a game’s a game. You’ve gotta prepare the same way. You want the end result, and our team goal is to win the opener, so yeah, there’s a little more excitement, maybe from media and things like that. But for me, I’ll prepare the same way I did last year for Wofford. It was my first college game, and so I prepared really hard, and I looked forward to getting my collegiate career under way.

“So I’m doing the same things I did last year.”

Wilkins did plenty last year for the Clemson defense. He finished with 84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 453 snaps, and he had one start. In the game against Wofford, Wilkins had six tackles.

This season, he is one of the veterans on a defense that lost a lot of experience and talent from last year’s group, and he’s trying to show the younger players, like fellow defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, the ropes.

“I think he’ll be ready. I’ve just been talking to him, really telling him my first experience in like a big game and a big environment; it’s a lot different than high school,” Wilkins said. “But just really trying to make sure he’s just not getting too wrapped up into the game, just really trying to tell him to channel his energy and focus on what we’ve gotta do every day, focus on him just getting better all week so he can help the team as much as he can.”

That has been the message for the entire defense as it gets ready to face Auburn’s multi-faceted offense.

“We just really talk about taking it day by day. If we do everything we’ve gotta do and do all the little things right on a daily basis, then the rest will take care of itself,” Wilkins said. “We’ll be fine. We don’t really try to focus on … we know where we want to be at the end of this season, but we really try not to focus on that as much as focusing on the task at hand every day.

“We’re really not feeling the pressure. We’re just working hard every day to just get as good as we can and be the best we can be and just prepare as hard as we can and see what happens. Everyone’s just gotta do their job and not get too wrapped up in like how big the game is, I guess. Guys just still gotta do what they’re coached to do and just do their job. Don’t try to do anyone else’s job, and we’ll be fine.”

That starts against Sean White, who is scheduled to get the start at quarterback for Auburn after a long battle during the preseason.

“He’s a tough competitor,” Wilkins said. “I can see that he really likes to compete. He’s tough. He makes some tough plays and everything, so we’re gonna definitely have to take care of business. He’s good in the pocket. He doesn’t necessarily run as much as the other two quarterbacks, but he’s still just really tough and a strong competitor.

“They’ve got a really good offensive line. They’ve got a lot of talent and everything. They’re a good team, so we’re going to have to be ready to play them and play as hard as we can if we’re going to come out with a win. They do a lot of different things and things that can really trick you and get you confused, but you’ve really just gotta focus on your job and on your keys, and you’ll be fine.”

Wilkins has had to get a little extra work focusing on his keys this preseason as he has rotated between defensive tackle and defensive end.

“I’ve just been getting reps at both defensive tackle and defensive end, just getting some work and just trying to get comfortable playing outside a little bit more,” he said. “So I’ve been taking a few more reps but still working D-tackle and everything, too. That’s the thing, just this week and the last few weeks, I’ve just been trying to prepare myself as best I can, just getting comfortable playing outside, working really hard when I’m playing inside, and I’m just happy to be able to do it for my team.”

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.



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