TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As big-man touchdowns go, this one did not have much stumbling or bumbling. What it did have was a dive at the end.
“For style points,” Christian Wilkins said with a big grin.
Since Clemson unveiled its jumbo package featuring Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence in 2016, the 300-plus pound defensive tackles have served as super-sized blockers for their offensive teammates.
But as Clemson started to prep for Florida State, the coaching staff decided to change up the plan.
“We said, ‘Hey, let’s have a little fun with the package,'” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Lawrence would line up as the lead blocker, while Wilkins would go in at running back if they had a short-yardage goal-line situation come up. The first opportunity came in the second quarter, on a third-and-goal.
Lawrence and Wilkins trotted onto the field. Trevor Lawrence took the snap and handed the ball to Wilkins. Running behind Dexter Lawrence, he scored and grabbed his own bit of Clemson history.
The Tigers believe Wilkins is the first Clemson defensive lineman to score a touchdown since players stopped playing both offense and defense.
“I was thinking about dunking the ball on the goalpost, but Dex grabbed me before I had a chance to,” Wilkins explained. “I was a little upset about that.”
As if Clemson does not have enough ways to score with its rapidly improving offense, it now has its best defensive linemen adding yet another option. Wilkins, for one, has proved his athleticism since his debut season in 2015, having:
• Caught a pass for a first down on a fake punt against Oklahoma in the 2015 College Football Playoff semifinal
• Taken a direct snap on another fake punt against NC State in 2016
• Caught a touchdown pass against Troy in 2016
• Blocked a field goal
Wilkins is not shy, either, telling anyone who will listen he wants more opportunities to shine outside defense. Mostly this means nagging Dabo Swinney and the offensive coaches incessantly until they finally throw their hands up and let him have what he wants.
So the jumbo package turned into the “Fridge package,” an ode to former Clemson All-American William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who scored touchdowns with the Chicago Bears in short-yardage situations.
“I met his brother, but I have not met the Fridge,” Wilkins said of Michael Dean Perry, who also played at Clemson. “Obviously, I hear all the great things about him, what kind of athlete he was, what kind of player he was, that’s evident. But I’m definitely honored to be the first D-tackle to have a rushing touchdown. It’s pretty cool.”
Wilkins then gave credit to everyone involved in the play: “Everybody did their part from the snap to the blocking to the lead block to the handoff to receiving the handoff.”
“Those guys will do whatever you ask them to do, and that resonates with their teammates because they’re the best players at their best position but they’re also the most humble and they’ll do whatever it takes,” Elliott said. “It forces us as coaches to be creative, to think outside the box, and I appreciate that from those guys.”
Wilkins now has a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown on his résumé, so the next logical question is this: When will he throw his first touchdown pass? Since Kelly Bryant transferred last month, Wilkins has made it known that he would like an opportunity to be the emergency third-string quarterback, ahead of Hunter Renfrow.
“That’s all up to the coaches, but I’m definitely in Coach Swinney’s ear,” Wilkins said. “At least let me play quarterback. I don’t even have to throw the ball. I just want the opportunity to get back there. I don’t know. Stay tuned.”
Dabo Swinney laughed when asked whether the rushing touchdown would keep Wilkins from asking for more.
“Oh heck no,” Swinney said. “He’s so greedy. Are you kidding? He wants the ball. He wants to throw it. He wants to be a returner. He wants to play wideout, but you’ve got to love that.”
Clemson loves that. Opposing defenses and offenses? Not so much.
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