Greg Reid, Isaiah Crowell, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Tyrann Mathieu. Four stars, one off-season. Coated with potential, blessed with so much God-given talent. And four guys who did wrong. Call it taking an opportunity for granted, call it immaturity, call it a mistake.
And we’re left wondering, “why, how could they, don’t they know better…”
We can’t give them a free pass for their actions, of course. But, we shouldn’t really be surprised either when this stuff happens. Jimbo Fisher was quoted saying, “You have to look at where they were the first 18 years of their life.” He called marijuana and alcohol abuse by college football players an “epidemic.”
Clemson’s wide receiver Sammy Watkins got caught this summer with marijuana. He’s apologized and worked hard to repair what trust he damaged, according to Dabo. He was embarrassed. He was praised his entire freshman year for his humility, his ability to do right. As punishment rendered by Dabo himself, Watkins must miss Clemson’s first two games against Auburn and Ball State. Did you think Coach Swinney was going to be that harsh? I didn’t. I thought maybe a few extra sprints, show up a few hours earlier to practice each day, and some community service. But what Swinney did must be commended. As much as I love Sammy and want Clemson to beat Auburn in Atlanta, I believe it was the right thing to do. Dabo sent a strong message this behavior will not be tolerated, no matter how big the star or important the athlete. Coach Richt sent that same message, as did Fisher and Miles and Golden. Swinney gets that a guy like Watkins isn’t just a freak athlete who can take the Tigers to new heights, but he’s also a role model. He represents Clemson.
The question that must be asked- when does it stop becoming worth it to recruit guys with troubled pasts or not ideal upbringings? Where is the line that must be drawn between getting the best talent, giving the guy a second chance and a better life, and saving your precious time and program’s reputation on a trouble-maker? And how do you know who is going to handle personal and team success well, and who won’t?
There’s not really an immediate answer. But, coaches like Jimbo, Dabo, and Richt, and there are plenty of them, have to keep doing what they’re doing. Preaching focus, discipline, and the ultimate goal for many of these young stars- winning in college and hearing their name on Draft day, and not letting anything get in the way of that.
Sammy’s a great kid. He won’t cause any more problems. I really believe that. He’s from Fort Myers, Florida and has spoken openly about wanting to leave that area, and how Clemson serves as a safe-haven. Sammy doesn’t just play for the love of the game. Of course he loves it, but he has one goal- make it big in the NFL. And that’s okay.
Here’s to hoping guys in the future can learn from Reid, Crowell, Mathieu, Armstrong and Watkins. Hoping they catch themselves before it’s too late.