The time came for Sammy Watkins to address the summer campers gathered around, little kids who undoubtedly looked up to the star from Clemson.
He stood up in front of the group. He looked in front of him. Thousands of kids looked back.
Watkins started to get a little nervous. He had just gotten into off-the-field trouble, and coach Dabo Swinney wanted him to address these young kids with first-hand advice about the importance of staying on the right path.
"I didn’t know how the kids were going to react," Watkins recalled in a recent interview on campus. "I came out and spoke from the heart, just told them what was real and what had happened and it helped me get over that. That was a hump I was worried about -- the young kids and my fans. After I did that, I put it behind me. I don’t dwell on that stuff. I think it’s going to help me this season become a better person, a better player. I think it got me stronger with the team, just stepping up to the fact that I did mess up but I’m not going to let that affect me on the field. I think it helped me."
The theme this spring has been the maturation of Watkins, who wants to return to his fantastic freshman form. Though he says he put his off-field-troubles behind him, last season was one full of distractions. His arrest on misdemeanor drug possession one year ago led to a two-game suspension. When he returned, he figured he would just be the Sammy of old. He was not. Then he had to deal with a serious kidney issue that forced him to miss another game. He ended the season falling well short of the fantastic freshman the country got to see in 2011.
"I expected to make way more plays than I did last year," Watkins said. "I feel I didn’t because I didn’t do it on the practice field. I wasn’t pushing myself to get tired, I wasn’t really feeling the grind. I was just laid back.
"Just from all the success I had my freshman year, it’s a natural reaction to think that this game is easy and I can do the same thing the next year. Teams really scouted me more my sophomore year with different coverages, putting their hands on me, being physical. Those are things I’m prepared for this year."
He also is prepared to put in the time and hard work to get himself better.
"I don’t think I had a bad year, but I didn’t meet my expectations. I didn’t prepare myself right, and I just think I approached this spring differently."
His teammates have noticed.
"He's been working really hard," quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "He comes with a workman attitude, he loves competing. He leads all those receivers by his actions."
Those actions, at least this spring, have been exemplary enough for his coaches to heap praise on the way he has matured and turned a corner as well.
"I am being watched," Watkins said. "I’m not invisible. Everybody around here expects big things from me on and off the field. I do impact people’s lives, fans, little kids. This is a nice town has a lot of nice fans, people who look up to us football players, so I learned to be cautious of every move because everybody is watching you."