He set league records for freshmen with 72 receptions, 1,073 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns, and provided the Tigers' productive offense with its top big-play threat.
Watkins received 43 of a possible 45 votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year in balloting conducted by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard was named on two ballots. The total gave Watkins a clear majority of the electorate over the top defensive rookie, Wake Forest defensive back Merrill Noel, who was honored with a separate award.
The 6-foot-1 freshman from Fort Myers, Fla., established himself as one of the nation's top young players almost from the outset of the Tigers' 9-3 regular season. During the eighth game, he set three ACC rookie records on one play: those for receptions, yardage and touchdowns.
He also set the freshman standard for all-purpose yards, of which he has 1,920 with two games left. Only four ACC players have topped 2,000 for a season, and at 174.45 a game, Watkins stands fourth among all FCS competitors. Until a late-season injury, he had a viable chance to become the first freshman since 1943 to lead the NCAA's highest division in all-purpose yardage.
Watkins' national prominence grew in the Oct. 15 game at Maryland, in which the Tigers overcame an 18-point second-half deficit for a 56-45 victory. He hauled in two scoring passes in a seven-minute stretch of the third quarter as his team claimed the lead. After the Terrapins scored to go back on top, Watkins took the kickoff back 89 yards – in only 11 seconds – for the TD that put his team ahead to stay midway through the fourth quarter. His total of 345 all-purpose yards is the fourth-highest in ACC history.
"Sammy was definitely a guy that we knew would have to help us, but it wasn't until we got him into camp that we realized just how special he was and that he had a chance to be a starter and a game-changer, and that's what he's been," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said.
Watkins is the sixth Rookie of the Year from Clemson and the first since running back James Davis in 2005. He is the fifth wide receiver to earn the distinction and the first since Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson in 2004.
Voting for the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Rookie of the Year award, as voted on by 45 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.
ACC OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Sammy Watkins, wr, Clemson (43)
Giovani Bernard, rb, North Carolina (2)
Watkins ACC Rookie of the Year
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