The big fella leaves some awful big shoes to fill and not just on the field
When the Clemson defense takes the field for the first time in 2019, it’s going to look odd not seeing Christian Wilkins on the field. It’s something most fans have been preparing themselves for since the clock hit zero in the Tigers 44-16 dismantling of Alabama in the CFP National Title game. Let’s face it, we are talking about arguably the most transcendent player to ever come through Clemson.
When the team scores its first touchdown of 2019, it’s going to seem even more odd when big #42 isn’t the first guy in the end zone celebrating. As much as everyone knows how much Wilkins is going to be missed on the field, it’s his off the field leadership skills, such as being one of the first players in the end zone to celebrate TD’s, that might end up being missed the most.
The last few seasons, the Clemson football teams have taken on the personality of it’s most vocal leader. Production can be replaced, but what Wilkins brought to this program as far as leadership skills off the field will likely not be easily duplicated.
When Kelly Bryant abruptly left the team following his demotion last season, it was Wilkins that took young Trevor Lawrence out to breakfast in the following days to ease the true freshman’s mind. He did it without any prodding from the coaching staff, he just knew what needed to be done, took the initiative, and did it.
With Wilkins now playing on Sunday’s, the question now becomes, who steps into those shoes. Who will grab the bull by the horns when there’s a little adversity. Who is that guy that will grab his teammate by the facemask and hand out a tongue lashing when the circumstances call for it. The guy that also knows when or when not to pull a teammate off to the side to offer encouragement, and the right way to frame that encouragement.
Generally, most successful teams tend to have that one leader that the rest of the team gravitates towards and looks up to. If you need an example, look no further than the Clemson Baseball team that just finished up its season. That kind of vocal leadership seemed to be missing from that team, and they really could have used some when things started going downhill in the second half of the season.
There doesn’t seem to be an obvious choice as to who steps into that role on the football team this season. Some candidates that come to mind are Isaiah Simmons and Jordan Williams on the defensive side. Or possibly Justin Falcinelli or John Simpson on the offensive side.
Ideally, on the offensive side you’d like to see the quarterback step into that role. That just doesn’t seem to be Trevor Lawrence though. He is such a laid back kid that it’s hard to envision him being the teams “rah rah guy.” If he’s going to be a leader on this team, you’d have to assume it would be more of a lead by example type role.
We all know the players that will be trying to fill the void left by Wilkins on the field. One of the more glaring questions as we head into camp will be who will attempt to fill it off the field. Whoever it is, he’s got some awful big shoes to fill.