|IRVING, Texas (Jan. 3, 2019) – Clemson defensive end Christian Wilkins, who early last month claimed the NFF William V. Campbell Trophy® as the best football scholar-athlete in the nation, will become the first recipient of the coveted award to appear in a College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship, which this year will feature No. 1 Alabama (14-0) against the No. 2 Tigers (14-0) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Jan. 7.
The milestone creates a unique confluence of events as the recipient of the Campbell Trophy has been recognized on the field between the first and second quarters of the national title game since the 2013 season. Previous recipients have all appeared on the field with NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell for a special presentation during the game.
“Understanding the symbolism of the Campbell Trophy, the leaders of the CFP have been fabulous partners in creating a tradition to showcase the winner each year,” said Hatchell. “Obviously, we now have a few new details to iron out since Christian will be playing in the game, but we could not be more thrilled to shine a light on him and all he represents during the events surrounding the national championship. Christian is destined for great things in life.”
The New York Times profiled Wilkins before the semifinal game, highlighting the possibility that the three-time All-American defensive end could play Jan. 7 in the title game as well as be honored as the Campbell Trophy recipient.
“I hope I can come out and get honored in my uniform. That would be pretty cool. Maybe we’ll find a bow tie or a big blazer to throw over me,” Wilkins joked with New York Times reporter Marc Tracy.
As Clemson now prepares to face Alabama in Santa Clara, current plans call for a video tribute, which will not require Wilkins’ participation, in the traditional slot between the first and second quarters. Coach Dabo Swinney, who will have his team focused on the game at that moment, has a deep appreciation for the award.
“I was so excited when he first got the call that he was a finalist,” said Swinney in an interview after Wilkins won the award in New York City. “We do a video of the day, and that was the video of the day I wanted the team to know. I wanted everybody to know. This is a big deal. I don’t do it for any other award… They’re all great, but they’re all football awards….
“But to me, this is the epitome for what we want our program to be about, and that is truly valuing the journey over the result or whatever, the destination, and valuing education and how that empowers you for the rest of your life, and valuing all the things that you are there to tap into from career development to social development, life skills, networking, relationships and Christian is the epitome of that.”
Wilkins became the first scholarship player in Clemson football history to finish school in two and a half years, earning a bachelor’s degree in communication studies with a 3.33 GPA. Last month, he added a master’s degree in athletic leadership to his list of classroom accomplishments, receiving two degrees in just three and a half years. His academic accolades, along with being a three-time First Team All-American (unanimous in 2018) and his multiple contributions as a leader in the community, made him the 29th recipient of the trophy, which he accepted Dec 4 at NFF Annual Awards Dinner in New York City
“My name’s going to be on the accomplishment, but awards like this you don’t win on your own,” Wilkins said during his acceptance speech. “It takes a lot of people just pushing you in the right direction and guiding you…I definitely want to thank my family because the odds were against me my whole life. I’m from a broken home with a single mother. This wasn’t supposed to be me up here. It was my mom and other siblings who drove home the value of an education and doing what’s right.”
“Football is such a great game,” Wilkins continued. “It really brings a lot of people together, no matter your upbringing, no matter your circumstance. No matter what you’ve been through in life, it brings everyone together. We’re all guys from all different walks of life and different backgrounds, but through the game of football we were able to be seen as equals. Where we come from, that doesn’t matter. We’re all here tonight to be honored and be up for the same award.”
Wilkins has led the Tigers to the CFP playoffs the past four years, including a thrilling 35-31 victory over Alabama in the title game following the 2016 season. A projected top ten NFL Draft pick this spring, Wilkins had the chance to turn pro last year, but he opted to return for his final year of eligibility with the Tigers despite many people believing he would leave.
“First of all, he loves the experience, he just loves college and his teammates,” said Swinney in commenting on Wilkins’ surprise return. “He’s one of those guys who is a deep thinker. He’s a big perspective guy. He said ‘Coach I am going to play pro football for a long time. I won’t get a chance to play college anymore, and that’s how he thinks, with a sense of perspective. He’s not in a hurry with life. He just truly enjoys his life…
“It’s so hard to do what’s he has done, first of all, but then he has done it with this amazing flare. You know, he makes it look so easy, and he makes it look like so much fun because it truly is him. He’s just one of the easiest people to be around on a day-to-day basis, and he challenges his teammates. He truly sets the standard.”
Two other winners of the Campbell Trophy, which was first presented in the 1990, appeared in national title games during the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era. Barrett Jones (Alabama – 2012) and Joaquin Gonzales (Miami, Fla., – 2001) both played on BCS national championship teams the year they claimed the award. Additionally when the polls determined the national champion, Danny Wuerffel (Florida – 1996) and Rob Zatechka (Nebraska – 1994) both received the award the same year their teams finished No. 1 in a nationally recognized poll.
As the recipient of the Campbell Trophy, CBS Sports profiled Wilkins as their Scholar-Athlete of the Year during the Sun Bowl this week.
The centerpiece to the NFF’s scholar-athlete program, The William V. Campbell Trophy® selects one member of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class as the recipient. Launched in 1959 and celebrating its 61th year in 2019, the NFF National Scholar-Athlete program became the first initiative in history to award postgraduate scholarships based on a player’s combined academic, athletic and community accomplishments, and the program has awarded $11.5 million to 854 top athletes since its inception.
The award is named in honor of the late Bill Campbell, the former chairman of Intuit, former player and head coach at Columbia University and the 2004 recipient of the NFF’s Gold Medal. Candidates must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a grade point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.
Past Recipients of The William V. Campbell Trophy