CLEMSON – Sammy Watkins wants to erase all doubts that he’s the one to watch out for in game one.
“I think I’m feared,” the junior receiver said, “but I think a lot of guys are watching to see this year if I’m that same player. This is a season to prove everyone that I can make the plays I made my freshman year.”
The Fort Myers, Fla. product is no stranger to quick starts.
His first college touch was a 33-yard touchdown pass from Tajh Boyd. After serving the two-game suspension last season, his first three touches went for 30 yards per, including a 58-yard touchdown rush.
But there is still ample reason for doubt coming off a rocky ’12 campaign.
Watkins’ snaps per touchdown dropped dramatically (55 to 134) and he was held in check the last time out in Death Valley against South Carolina – four catches for 37 yards – and then was knocked out on the second offensive play against LSU after a big hit. That early exit was an eye-opener for Watkins.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I was very humbled and you have to take every play seriously in football. I think it kind of opened my eyes to play hard every rep and leave everything out on the field.”
Regaining the freshman form has been the star junior’s oft-repeated goal this offseason, where he topped 100 receiving yards five times with 12 scores, and he’s feeling good right now.
“Right now I’m free-minded and living right,” Watkins said. “My body is totally different. I’m really just focusing. I’m not worried about the off-the-field issues and now I’m ready to play.”
Eligible for the NFL draft after this season, 2013 is a big year for the south Florida product, but he knows a big season from him will only make the Tigers’ offense more menacing.
“I want to come in the game and make every coach and player to think about me in the gameplan – me and Tajh (Boyd),” Watkins said. “That will open up a lot of opportunities for other wide receivers. There’s going to be a game where I have 60 yards. I don’t mind about my yards – it’s about the team goals.”
Tigers-Bulldogs top-10 clash crucial
National stage provides recruiting boost: Clemson and Georgia have gone head-to-head on quite a few players over the last couple years – examples recently being Georgia’s sophomore running back duo (Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley) and incoming Clemson freshman tailback Tyshon Dye.
But instead of seeing Saturday night as a head-to-head recruiting battle with the Dawgs, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says it's more an opportunity to host top recruits and show out before a nationally televised audience.
“At the end of the day it’s just a huge game to get so many people on your campus,” Swinney said. “To have GameDay and showcase Clemson is the big thing. At the end of the day when guys make their decisions, it’s about the program, best fit and it’s not necessarily about one particular game.”
Clemson has been that best fit for 15 Peach State products (eight on the two-deep depth chart) and they either have on board or are targeting more for the 2014 class.
Five of the Tigers’ 15 commits are from Georgia and all of them are consensus top-25 prospects in the state, including the nation’s top-rated QB Deshaun Watson (Gainesville). Out of Hinesville, Ga., top-rated and uncommitted inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan will be on hand this weekend, who has offers from both the Tigers and Bulldogs and every other top program.
“Georgia is about 20 miles from here so we recruit Georgia like it’s in-state,” said Swinney. “…Heck, it’s a lot closer to a lot of prospects in Georgia than it is in a lot of areas in our state just because of where we’re positioned. It just makes sense to put a lot of emphasis on recruiting that state very well.”
Big opener has pros and cons: “It wouldn’t have been my first choice,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said on starting with No. 5 Georgia.
Asked who he’d prefer – “I don’t want to be disrespectful,” said Venables, “but I’d like to play my (third-team) substantially.”
That said, there’s an energy surrounding the matchup that helps as well.
“To the flipside, it’s incredibly exciting and it gets your juices flowing in March,” he said. “The openers – you’re always a little uneasy about them. I wouldn’t ever call it fun as a coach… It’s a great challenge on a great stage and two storied programs with very strong, rich history and tradition of playing each other.
“It’s a huge rivalry game.”