From Trojan to Tiger

Jan. 26, 2013 @ 07:06 AM

Carlos Watkins has made a successful transition from Chase Trojan to Clemson Tiger.  Now that the college football season has ended, the Rutherford County native took some time to reminisce about his first year on the collegiate gridiron.

“Man, it’s like I’m living a dream,” said Watkins. “I’ve always wanted to play college football, but to play in front of 80,000 people. Wow. From the first time I stepped on the field until now, it has just been an amazing experience.”

Watkins is quick to admit that even though his experiences were “amazing," they were not easy.

“Playing college football is hard work," he said.  “It’s not just going out there and playing a game on Saturday. There is so much stuff that goes on during the week to get ready for the game; playing football is the easiest part of the week. It’s definitely the most fun.”

That hard work continues even after the final whistle of the season’s final game. 

“Even in the offseason you are lifting every day, trying to get faster and stronger," Watkins said. “You don’t get a break. You have to stay focused on football all year long.”

Having to focus on football year-round is only one major difference Watkins had to adjust to when coming to Clemson.

“The speed and how physical the game is were the biggest things I had to get used to ,”said Watkins, who plays defensive tackle “In high school, I could just pick people up, throw them out of the way and get to the ball.  I can’t do that here because guys weigh 330 pounds and run at 4.3 or 4.4 (speed). It took a while to get used to but I came to camp and started working on my technique, so the adjustment wasn’t as hard as it could have been.”

One factor that helped Watkins adjust to the college game was his familiarity with the Tigers’ defensive scheme.

“We run the same scheme at Clemson that we did at Chase,” Watkins said. “It definitely helped not having to learn a new system. All I had to focus on was gap control which was totally different. In high school, I could just fly around and hit people. Now I have to be disciplined and stay in my gap.”

While adjusting to the rigors of college football has been a challenge for Watkins, life in the classroom has come much easier.

“Honestly, classes are not as hard as I thought they would be,” he said. “The biggest thing I had to get used to was all the walking. Sometimes my classes were several miles apart. Balancing class and football was hard sometimes, but after awhile you get used to it and it becomes part of your routine. It’s more of a mental thing than anything else.”

That hard work and discipline on the field and in the classroom paid off as Watkins saw action in 11 of Clemson’s 13 contests in 2012. The most vivid memory for Watkins, however, did not come from a particular game. It occurred before he took the field for Clemson’s home opener versus Ball State.

“The time I was getting ready to rub the rock and run down that hill for the first time, I won’t lie, I was so nervous,” Watkins said. “I just kept saying to myself ‘don’t trip and fall in front of all these people’. Once I got down there and stepped on the field though, I wasn’t nervous. I found my rhythm and just started playing football. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Statistically, Watkins most predictive game of 2012 came on Oct. 20 in a 38-17 Clemson win over Virginia Tech. In that contest he garnered two solo tackles and assisted on another. For the season, Watkins played an estimated 100 to 125 snaps and finished with 13 total tackles, five of which were unassisted.

Of all those tackles, it is the one he didn’t make that is the most vivid in Watkins mind.

During Clemson’s 25-24 upset of LSU in the Chic-Fil-A Bowl, he nearly came away with a sack of LSU quarterback Zach Mattenberger.

“I had him wrapped up but he just got away,” Watkins said. “Guys are just so much stronger at this level that sometimes that happens...I’ll take the win though,” Watkins continued. “Beating LSU was the best moment we had as a team all year. No one expected us to win and to do it on a last second field goal was great. I just enjoyed celebrating with my teammates that night.”

The celebration did not last long, however, as Watkins and the rest of his Tiger teammates are already preparing for a 2013 season that is loaded with expectations.  

“Last year was a great learning experience for me,” said Watkins. “Honestly, I wanted to see more playing time, but it was helpful just to sit back and learn. This year, I want to be an impact player on a national championship team. Coach (Dabo) Sweeny always tells me to let it all go and not hold anything back and that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Chase coach Daniel Bailey, who attended most of Clemson’s home games this season, believes that Watkins can become more than just an impact player. “From what I’ve seen this year, I think Carlos can be a household name in college football, not just in this area, but in the country,” said Bailey. “He is that talented.”

While Bailey and other friends and family were watching Watkins play this season, Watkins was in turn keeping tabs on the Trojans football team.

“I would call (younger brother) Tray every Friday night to find out how they did,” said Watkins. “I wanted to be out there helping them so bad, but especially in that playoff game against Shelby. I was asking for updates every 30 seconds so it felt like I was at the game. I felt so bad for the team when they lost. I thought they were finally going to beat Shelby.”

Watkins ties to Rutherford County remain strong in other ways as well.

“I am very blessed and proud to say I am from Rutherford County and that doesn’t change just because I play college football,” he said.  “One of the main reasons I came to Clemson is so I could stay close to home and everyone could come watch me play. The support has encouraged me so much I am going to do my best to represent the folks back home well by helping to win a national championship this year.”