Watkins knew he was leaving Clemson early

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2014 at 4:44 pm •  Published: January 10, 2014

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Record-setting receiver Sammy Watkins knew before the season began it would likely be his last at Clemson.

Watkins announced earlier this week he'd given up his senior season to enter the NFL draft. He stopped back on campus for this weekend's football banquet before heading off to train in Tampa, Fla., for his expected invite to the NFL combine.

Watkins said Friday he talked with his coaches before the year started about returning to his freshman numbers that put him on the AP All-America team. Watkins did even better with 101 catches for 1,464 yards this season, both Clemson single-season records.

Watkins didn't totally block out talk of his high draft status and worked to finish college ball with a flourish.

"I think that's how I approached the season and that's how the coaches approached me this year," Watkins said. "They were going to get the best out of me and they were going to get the ball to me all year and I've got to be a complete player."

"I think I managed that well this year," Watkins continued.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior has been considered by several analysts the top receiver in next May's draft.

There were a few times, Watkins said with a grin, where he'd joke with coach Dabo Swinney or receiver coach Jeff Scott about coming back. In the end, Watkins was ready to reach the goal he'd worked toward since playing youth football in Fort Myers, Fla.

"The dream is here now," Watkins said.

Not that his time at Clemson was all as smooth as his pass routes.

After a stunning freshman season in 2011 — he had 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 TDs to help Clemson to its first Atlantic Coast Conference crown in two decades — Watkins was arrested the following May and charged with two counts of misdemeanor drug possession. Voted the 2012 preseason ACC player of the year, Watkins was suspended for the first two games by Swinney and never found his football groove.

Still, Watkins believes the incident helped him to reach this point.

"Everyone thinks of that as a bad point of my life, but I think it helped me out," he said. "It helped me see the bigger picture."