The Sammy show winding down

CLEMSON – If you want to watch Sammy Watkins in a Clemson uniform inside Memorial Stadium, your time is running short. As in, this Saturday.

By about 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the Clemson star junior receiver's home career could be over, assuming the home finale against The Citadel goes as planned.

That was expected following Watkins' breakout freshman season – one of the best ever by a collegiate freshman receiver – but doubts arose following a sophomore season plagued by a drug suspension, illness and injury.

Through 10 games, however, Watkins has more than proved his doubters wrong. He has 1,086 yards – averaging 108.6 per game with 71 receptions and nine touchdowns. He is the only 1,000-yard receiver in the ACC, and he sits just two receptions behind Duke's Jamison Crowder for the league lead. His nine receiving scores are tied with Florida State's Rashad Greene for most in the ACC, too. He is a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football's top receiver.

As a result, he's a likely top-15 pick should he forego his final season of eligibility and declare for the 2014 NFL draft.

Watkins isn't talking in specifics about his future, but he's about to reap the rewards following a year of hard work.

"I paid the price," he said. "Coming into this season it was about dominating every team, putting my face back on Clemson and letting everyone know I can play and be that same guy from my freshman year. I came in this summer, worked the hardest I've ever worked and it's showing on the field.

"I'm practicing hard every day, doing the little things right and coach can't ask from more for me than me. Going into practice and games I perform, listen to things they've evaluated me on and I evaluated myself. I turned into a complete player this year and I'm working hard."

Watkins admits that wasn't necessarily the case last fall.

"Last year," he said, "I wasn't a practice person. I lagged, I loafed, I stopped. I wasn't finishing catches."

This fall, Watkins has become a leader for a talented receiving corps. He has pushed fellow junior Martavis Bryant, who has emerged into the Tigers' No.2 receiver and a talented deep threat with 34 catches for 698 yards and four touchdowns.

"Our whole wide receiver corps has a standard, just like the coaches do," he said. "We all hold each other accountable. Last year, we'd let someone lag, loaf, miss a block – it didn't mean nothing. Now you'll see anger if one of our guys lags or loafs or misses a block, messes up on a play."

Watkins knows his teammates are watching – and acts accordingly.

"It's hard, knowing that every guy, every player, every coach is watching how you're doing things in practice," he said., "At the end of practice, they're going to see how you practice. I focus every play, try to do hard every play."

His coaches have certainly noticed.

"He's one of the most low-maintenance superstars I've ever dealt with," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's genuine and coachable. Whether you kick him in the tail or love on him, he responds. The best teams I've been on, the best players are the hardest workers. Sammy is one of the best and he sets that example for the rest of his team."

And while he has the talent of a Dez Bryant or Terrell Owens, his attitude screams low-key, like Calvin Johnson or Jerry Rice. He calls himself a "happy guy" who has a "blue-collar work ethic."

"If I was a diva, I'd be dressed up every day," he said. "I go to class like this every day (in a hooded Clemson sweatshirt and jogging pants), flip-flops, incognito with my hat on my head. There's no divas on this team. We just come out and play football."

That work ethic has him well within range of numerous Clemson receiving marks. He is seven yards behind DeAndre Hopkins for the program's career receiving yardage record and 22 receptions behind Aaron Kelly for the program's all-time receptions mark (which it took Kelly four years to accomplish).

He likely won't become the ACC's all-time receptions leader (Duke's Connor Vernon had 283 from 2009-12, while Watkins has 210), but his numbers in three seasons are eye-popping.

Do they matter? Not really.

"I think they're a great accomplishment, but at the same time, I'm a team person," Watkins said. "I want to be 12-1, go to the Orange Bowl. I want to beat South Carolina. Those are the things I care about. Individual records are great, but at the same time it's better when you're doing things with the whole team and coaching staff."

Improvement on the field? That's what matters.

"I think I've proved I'm a complete player, just by blocking this year," he said. "I didn't block my freshman or sophomore year. I think I've become that this season, just blocking every play if someone's in my area. I think with every play, every catch, I've been doing all the little things. Start, stance, finishing the catch, running the right routes, break points. Those are things I've focused on this year."

The right people have noticed. If you want to watch Watkins in a Clemson uniform, you're running out of time.

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