SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s not often Urban Meyer hears “no” on the recruiting trail.
And while Christian Wilkins insists his college choice was easy, the Clemson star defensive end also concedes that Ohio State was a major player in his recruitment.
So much so that his own family thought the former 5-star prospect was bound to become a member of the Buckeyes.
“They were actually one of my top-3 schools,” Wilkins said Tuesday, four days before facing No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal Fiesta Bowl. “Actually, my family thought I was going to go and everything. I kind of tricked them last minute and told them I was coming to Clemson.”
His family wasn’t alone.
Wilkins’ 247Sports Crystal Ball page still shows prognosticators pegging the Springfield, Mass., and Suffield (Conn.) Academy product to land at Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame. He even took the final official visit of his recruitment to Columbus, less than two months before National Signing Day in 2015.
“They were a school I was looking at hard to go to,” Wilkins said. “I built a good relationship with coach (Larry) Johnson, their defensive line coach. A good guy.”
Yet nearly a month to the day before signing day, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney pulled off a program-changing coup. In Wilkins, Clemson had secured a commitment from the nation’s No. 6 defensive tackle and No. 24 overall player.
It’d be tough to argue he hasn’t lived up to the hype — and then some.
Converting to defensive end on one of the most dynamic units in the country, Wilkins earned multiple All-American honors for the second-ranked Tigers in 2016, tallying 44 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss, seven pass breakups and five QB hurries. His rare combination of size and speed has made him the focal point of opposing offenses’ game plans. He’s even made his way into in the minds of opposing defenses too after catching a one-yard touchdown against Troy in the second week of the season.
— Jonathan Cheek (@clemsonsixer) September 10, 2016
Simply put: It hasn’t been hard to see why Wilkins is every bit the priority for the Buckeyes from a game-planning standpoint this week as he was on the recruiting trail two years ago.
And although many at the time would have thought he’d be playing on the other side of this game, Clemson’s sophomore star insists his final decision was never that complicated. All things considered, it wasn’t even hard for him to become one of the rare high profile recruits to say “thanks, but no thanks” to Meyer.
“No disrespect to (Ohio State),” Wilkins says, “but it was easy with Clemson as an option. I was at peace with it.”