DeAndre Hopkins provided about as good a model possible for sophomore-to-junior year progression, on-and-off the field.
And Sammy Watkins took notice, focusing his offseason schedule on a well-rounded exercise and eating regiment – something he admits was lacking in last season’s “slump” (still averaged 79 yards per game with three touchdowns in nine contests).
“I think last year I was so weak,” Watkins said. “Had nicks and bruises and injuries because I wasn’t eating right and I wasn’t really lifting heavy. (Now), they stayed on my weight and now I’m 210-208 (pounds) – bigger.
“Same thing that DeAndre did. He got big his junior year and that’s the same thing I’m trying to do.”
So far, so good on the plan this spring football session, Watkins says, a “full-go” after sustaining an ankle injury on the second offensive play in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl back on Dec. 31.
“I feel healthy. I’m not frail or weak or anything like that,” Watkins said. “I think I’m most definitely thicker and stronger.”
The Fort Myers, Fla. native says though he had his fair share of physical issues – much of last year’s struggles were mental, combined with less looks due to rising senior quarterback Tajh Boyd’s special connection with Hopkins.
Watkins is motivated to make 2012 a blip on the radar of a standout career.
“I just have to come back and prove myself that I’m an every-down receiver,” he said, “and I can play every game. Just go out and play hard.”
With a new-and-improved Watkins, the Clemson offense should still hum, but replacing Hopkins’ production certainly won’t be easy.
A trio of juniors are the next men up, in Dorman products Charone Peake and Adam Humphries, and T.L. Hanna’s own, Martavis Bryant. Combined, the three had just over half of the projected top-round picks’ yards in ’12 (757 to 1,405) and less than half of the scores (7 to 18).
“Those are guys that some people have been waiting to stand up,” said returning ACC player of the year Boyd. “This is their opportunity. They’re excited about the challenge and they’re ready to be now as well.
“Those guys are excited about practice and trying to take advantage of every opportunity out here.”
The Watkins-Hopkins duo made up over 50 percent of the receiving yards over the last two seasons – that make-up is going to change this year.
“I feel like we have guys capable of stepping up in those roles and continue to build from it,” Boyd said. “That’s more room for us to distribute the ball.”
Freshman receiver Germone Hopper, coming off a redshirt, already has some high expectations, and as Hopkins is a model for Watkins – Watkins wants to be the same for Hopper.
“Hopper is going to be pretty good,” Watkins said. “He just has to get mature. He’s got to stop worrying so much and go out there and play. That’s what I did my freshman year – just went out there and played. Made all my mistakes and got them out of the way. Got coached-up…
“You see he has the ability to make the plays. He just has to go out there and have fun and stop worrying about messing up.”