CLEMSON, S.C. — Seven microphones awaited Christian Wilkins, Clemson’s three-time All-American defensive lineman, at a current information convention involving him and his fellow defensive starters. Most of the opposite gamers had only one microphone mounted in entrance of their seats.
When Wilkins arrived, he mischievously switched his identify card with the opposite one at his desk, prompting the information media to play alongside, repositioning themselves and their tools to lob questions at Clemson’s hottest participant.
It made for good copy, at the least: Christian being Christian — not so totally different from when he did a playful cut up onto a area of confetti after Clemson received the nationwide title almost two years in the past.
Wilkins’s movie star stems primarily from his exceptional expertise and flexibility. Listed at 6 ft four inches tall and 315 kilos, he’s agile sufficient to line up at operating again and in punt safety. A possible first-round choose within the N.F.L. draft subsequent spring, Wilkins is a chief motive that No. 2 Clemson (13-Zero) has the nation’s fourth-ranked protection and that the Tigers are favored of their nationwide semifinal playoff vs. No. three Notre Dame (12-Zero) on Saturday in Arlington, Tex.
But it’s Wilkins’s status off the sector that explains the distinctive curiosity in him.
“He’s either going to be the president, or he’s going to know him,” his coach, Dabo Swinney, said in a recent interview with NFL.com, referring to Wilkins’s wide-ranging interests and charisma. “One of the two.”
After nearly choosing to attend Stanford, Wilkins, who grew up in Massachusetts, became the first scholarship player in Clemson’s history to complete a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years. He was a communication studies major with a 3.3 grade point average, and he received a master’s in athletic leadership this month.
Call him the quintessential scholar-athlete — an ideal lionized by teams, by the news media and by fans as a complete person, admired not only for what he does on Saturdays but also for the person he is the six other days of the week.
This archetype has its own Heisman Trophy, the William V. Campbell Trophy, given annually at a year-end banquet by the National Football Foundation to “the absolute best in the country for his academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership.”
Past winners include Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow; this year, it was Wilkins.
“We break the misconception of typical athletes, just being the jock,” Wilkins said in his acceptance speech in a Manhattan ballroom this month. He had begun by expressing surprise that he had been selected among the finalists, saying with a sly smile that he did not have “anything prepared” while pulling some notes from his jacket pocket. He drew a big laugh.
Though known colloquially as the “academic Heisman,” the Campbell Trophy requires substantial on-field success, according to Steve Hatchell, the president and chief executive of the National Football Foundation.
“You can’t just ride the bench and have a four-point,” Hatchell said, referring to a perfect G.P.A. “You have to be a significant contributor.”
The award, Hatchell added, highlights what is right about college football.
“Yes, we’ve got a lot of knuckleheads in the game,” Hatchell said, “but we’ve also got lots of wonderful people.”
In his speech, Wilkins referred to himself, along with his fellow finalists and winners, as “people who do things right in the community, who serve others, who just have the total package.”
At Clemson, Wilkins is known for attending games of other sports teams, as he did in high school at Connecticut’s Suffield Academy. He spent last summer as a substitute teacher in a public school district near the Clemson campus, and, according to the National Football Foundation, he has given his time to charities like Habitat for Humanity and the Colleges Against Cancer Relay for Life.
On the field, he wears No. 42 in memory of his grandfather, Eurie Stamps, who was born in 1942 and mistakenly killed by the police when Wilkins was 15. As numerous accounts have related, Wilkins announced his college choice on the anniversary of Stamps’s death, which occurred when an officer searching for suspects in Stamps’s house accidentally fired his gun.
The importance of figures like Wilkins to fan narratives is particularly hard-wired into college football’s ethos, said Michael Oriard, a former N.F.L. player who is a professor emeritus at Oregon State and a widely recognized scholar of football and culture.
Football, after all, was founded at the illustrious colleges of the Northeast, conceived and defended as character-building for future leaders of the country. To an extent perhaps unparalleled by any other team sport, college football is supposed to feature athletes who are bigger than the game.
“As it quickly gets democratized and everyone figures out you can get these hefty guys down on the docks to come to school for a term and play for your team, that mythologizing of the game as a finishing school for the elite becomes nonsense,” Oriard said. “But what persists is the idea that it’s not about the game itself.”
Stories like Wilkins’s, Oriard added, “are confirmation that this ideal that we’ve clung to for a long time — skeptically or cynically or unconsciously — is still alive.”
For his part, Wilkins said this month that he was glad to be highlighted — to “use my platform as a man.”
“I feel like young kids don’t have the opportunity to have a positive male influence in their lives,” he added. “Not only as a man, but as a black man, that was important for me to do.”
Wilkins’s time in New York to receive the Campbell Trophy was followed by a trip to Atlanta for the College Football Awards, then another to Newport Beach, Calif., for the Lott Impact Trophy ceremony (he was a finalist for both honors).
The traveling, he said, took a toll. “It was good finally to get back here,” he said. “Cause I had a home base, got legitimate workouts in — not just hotel treadmills.”
His college journey will end Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif., at the national championship game, where the winner of the Campbell Trophy will be acknowledged on the field.
Of course, should Clemson defeat Notre Dame, Wilkins would be scheduled for a trip to Santa Clara anyway.
“I hope I can come out and get honored in my uniform,” he said. “That would be pretty cool. Maybe we’ll find a bow tie or a big blazer to throw over me.”
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