That’s right, the year Sammy Watkins graduated from South Fort Myers High School, honest to goodness talent evaluators believed it. The notion wasn't too far-fetched.
All hyperbole went out the window after his incredible 13-game run as a freshman. Well, really, it didn’t take that long. He did plenty of convincing after just one catch.
While he could go pro after that season, all it took was one offseason to remind Watkins that he probably wasn’t as ready for the pros as others may have thought. An offseason drug arrest made that pretty apparent.
That was a life-changing experience for the biggest play-maker to grace the Clemson campus since C.J. Spiller rolled through town.
“Everyone thinks of that as a bad point in my life,” Watkins said. “That helped me out. That made me see the bigger picture, that a lot of kids look up to me. As a young guy, I didn’t know I was this big star football player. I was just going out there playing football, doing the thing I loved to do.”
A serious soul-searching was in the highest order.
“I got back to reevaluate myself, and fix the little things I was doing in my life. That’s with partying, not doing the right things,” Watkins said, “And I think that just helped me more with the team. They respect me more for stepping up and doing what I had to do with the law and all the hours I put in with community service, and doing my things with the kids, speaking out and reaching out with the kids to not do bad things and be with bad people.
“Also, with the coaches, we had a lot of honesty and a lot of discipline. I also respect those guys for how they did it and how they handled the situation, how they helped me.”
Not to suggest that he didn’t want to, but Watkins is happy that he had to stick around Clemson for now more seasons. In that regard, he has no beef with the way the NFL conducts its draft business.
“I think the system is right. As men, I think we should enjoy our college career. No one should rush the process,” Watkins said. “With college, yes, we have a lot of great athletes that perform week in and week out, but there are a lot of things you have to work on behind the scenes. That’s not even catching and scoring. That’s the little things, how many steps in our routes, getting the right depth every time, not showing your routes. Those types of things you have to do consistently.
“If it was a program like the NBA where you could leave after one year, I think the NFL would be in a tough spot. As athletes, you have to grow. You have to learn the game...you definitely know the importance of loyalty, respect, trust, that’s what it takes out there on the field. The coaches have to trust you to put you out there. It’s bigger than just playing football. It’s definitely for the team. You have to go out there and play for the love of the guy beside you.”
So, scouts, coaches and GMs, the line will form in an orderly fashion to the left.