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August 3, 2012
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Sammy Watkins was the best player on the field last year against Auburn, but next month he'll simply be the best player on the sideline against the same team in the Georgia Dome.
Less than a year after introducing himself to the nation with a 10-catch, 155-yard showcase in a 38-24 throttling of Auburn, Watkins will be reduced to watching the rematch as a result of his two-game suspension announced Friday evening.
Coach Dabo Swinney announced the suspension on the first day of August camp, reacting to Watkins' May arrest on charges of possessing pot and pills during a traffic stop on campus.
Swinney withheld judgment for this long because he wanted to see how Watkins behaved over the summer as he faced pre-trial intervention and other demands. Swinney said he told Watkins in May that the severity of punishment would be as little as two games and as many as four.
Swinney said he's "incredibly satisfied" with how Watkins responded.
"It was just up to him what it was going to be," Swinney said after the Tigers opened August camp. "Really proud of him. He just did a fantastic job with everything that was asked of him. I had people write me letters, people he did community service for and things like that. All you can do is respond when you make a mistake, and he's responded the right way."
Watkins, the most recognizable Clemson athlete in some time after a sensational freshman season, will see his hopes of contending for the Heisman Trophy take a significant dip as a result of his two-game absence. But the preseason ACC player of the year was contrite when he answered questions from the media after practice and said he'd have accepted whatever punishment his coach handed down.
"I'm going to stay humble and not let anybody see me down," Watkins said. "It's in the past. I'm not sad. I've learned from it. I'm a very humble guy, so it really doesn't matter."
Watkins, who was driving a car with Clemson soccer player Abadou Dia as a passenger when the traffic stop occurred May 4, said he's learned a meaningful lesson as a result of this experience. Asked who has been hurt most by his mistake, he responded:
"Truly, I hurt myself. I feel like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I made the wrong decision. Of course I hurt my coaches, my teammates, my family."
Asked why he waited this long to decide Watkins' punishment, Swinney responded: "I'm not going to answer that again, because I've answered it 100 times."
Swinney said the decision was "solely mine." He said he believes the decision was fair "based on his past decision-making." The coach also said the punishment was consistent with similar situations he's been involved with in the past.
"The best way to get guys' attention is to sit them," he said. "I'm glad I didn't make an emotional decision, because it would have been more than that. But I'm glad he had an opportunity to really kind of build some bridges back and follow through with everything."
Asked about the criticism that the decision was too harsh, Swinney responded:
"Those people need to be the head coach. I'm the head coach. I make that decision. And whatever decision I make - you can't please people. I'm not in the business to please everybody. That's never going to happen. I'm never going to please the media. Some, maybe. None others. I'm never going to please the fans. If I worry about that, I'm going to be sitting in the stands."
Said Watkins: "I messed up. Nobody else messed up. I'm going to take all the blame for it."
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