Note: The following appears in the NC State gameday football program
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins has been a staple of the Tiger defense for the last four years, terrorizing opposing offenses and dazzling the nation with his incredible dance moves. Though audiences know Wilkins mostly for his exceptional football talent, Wilkins chose to come to Clemson for non-athletic reasons.
“There’s no better place than Clemson. Throughout the recruiting process, I was looking to grow in three main areas. Wherever I decided to go, I wanted to grow spiritually, academically and socially, and of all the schools in the nation, Clemson gave me that best opportunity. The athletic part would grow, but those three main areas, as a man and person, were important to me, so I wanted to make sure I got that.”
Another facet that Wilkins loves about Clemson is the people, stating that the people and relationships he has built are his favorite parts about being a Tiger.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that we really have some of the best people, in all areas. Obviously, we have great, talented guys, people who have been around the game. We have great football minds and great players, but the type of people I’m around have challenged me to be my best every day, on and off the field. You can’t beat it. The friends I’ve made, the brotherhoods that I have, the bonds that won’t be broken are definitely the things I’ll leave here the most proud of.”
One of the strongest bonds Wilkins has formed at Clemson is the one he has with his fellow starting defensive linemen (Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence).
According to Wilkins, there is no closer unit in the nation than the Tiger defensive line, which can be seen with the “Power Rangers” nickname given to the line by Wilkins, the self-proclaimed biggest Power Ranger fan. Wilkins used the nickname to symbolize their unity.
Wilkins came to be the leader of the line and is also a team leader. He has a lot of respect for his teammates, so it means the world for them to share that respect and view him as a leader.
“For guys to look to me and put their trust in me and respect me, it means a lot. Since they do that, it makes me hold myself to the highest possible standard, like I have to do well for my brothers. That’s one of the biggest honors I’ve had as a Clemson football player, being respected and looked at as a leader.”
Wilkins almost wasn’t a senior leader of the team, however. After his junior year in 2017, he had a difficult decision to make. Having already earned his degree and projected to be a high-round NFL draft pick, many assumed Wilkins would elect to declare for the draft. However, he surprised everyone and chose to return to Clemson for one last dance.
“I wanted to put an exclamation point on my career and make sure that I’m leaving Clemson way better than I found it. I believed it was the best decision for me. I’m a gut-feeling kind of guy. When my gut tells me to do something, I do it, and my gut was telling me there’s more I need to accomplish here at Clemson.”
The Springfield, Mass., native earned his degree in communication in two-and-a-half years, the first Tiger scholarship football player to do so, a distinction that means a lot to Wilkins.
“It’s very important to me, first of all, as a black man to earn my degree. I know that’s not easy to do, so it definitely means a lot to me, being able to do that and doing it in the time I did. I’m happy I got my degree and can use my platform as a football player to impact and influence others. I got my degree…why can’t you? Showing people it can be done…I took a lot of pride in that.”
Wilkins’ most memorable Clemson moment was playing his first game against Wofford in 2015. Coming from the Northeast, he was anxious about playing in a bigger football culture, but with each snap and tackle, Wilkins became more comfortable and knew he belonged.
He will always remember his first game, but one moment fans will never forget is the fake-punt pass that he caught from Andy Teasdall in the 2015 Orange Bowl.
“I didn’t know if Oklahoma was expecting anything or not, but I figured if anyone was on me, they were about to get ‘Mossed’,” laughed Wilkins. “I was going to make this play. I was excited to make a play for the team and give us a little momentum.”
Wilkins draws extra motivation from his jersey number (42). Chosen to honor his grandfather who was born in 1942, Wilkins uses the number to carry on his legacy.
Wilkins is also known as a great dancer. He credits his rhythm to growing up with eight brothers and sisters, with music playing constantly in the house. He showcases his moves on the field, where it is not unusual to see him dancing.
Wilkins has dreams of playing in the NFL after this season, but once his football career is over, he would like to be in front of the camera as a broadcaster or analyst, or the Broadway fan may even try his hand at acting.
From the gridiron to the acting stage, Wilkins looks to inspire no matter where he goes.