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Meet the fun-loving kindergarten cop: Dolphins rookie Christian Wilkins – Miami Dolphins Blog



MIAMI — Christian Wilkins has a not-so-secret undercover identity: He’s a White Tiger Power Ranger. On the field, he morphs into his alter ego aiming to defend his team from evil.

Wilkins nicknamed his Clemson teammates — the defensive line — after his favorite superheroes, the Power Rangers. Several of his teammates morphed into their own characters, such as Clelin Ferrell, the green ranger, and Dexter Lawrence, the pink ranger. They had Power Rangers handshakes off the field and sack celebrations on it. The group, dressed as Power Rangers, even surprised Clemson coach Dabo Swinney at his house on Halloween 2016.

This is just a glimpse into the Miami Dolphins rookie who is a kind-hearted athlete trying to break the mold of a stereotypical football player.

“Christian is always having fun. He’s a rare breed. He’s a one-in-a-million person who just happens to be good at football,” Swinney said. “He uses the game. He doesn’t let the game use him. Miami will love him.”

The Dolphins selected Wilkins, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound defensive tackle, with the No. 13 pick in April’s NFL draft with eyes on him being a cornerstone of their rebuild. Miami hopes Wilkins will make an on-field impact comparable to that of the Tennessee Titans’ Jurrell Casey. But what makes Wilkins unique is the package that comes with the player.

Wilkins, 23, dances, sings, cooks, jokes, backflips and moonlights as a substitute teacher.

He did a smooth split and gave Swinney a wet willy on national TV after Clemson won its national titles.

Wilkins gave NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a flying shoulder bump on stage after he was drafted.

He’s a natural leader and a team captain. His personality lights up every room, and he’s unapologetically frolicsome.

“I’m completely happy being myself. A lot of people spend their lives trying to be something else. With all the social media, everybody wants instant gratification,” Wilkins said. “Everybody wants to be like this person or that person. Everybody wants to have a certain amount of followers or likes. I’d rather have 10 followers being myself than a million putting on a persona.”

Wilkins arrives just in time for Miami — a city full of fun with a dearth of sports stars and personalities to represent it.

“You all just lost D-Wade, so Miami is going to need somebody to help fill that void,” Wilkins said. “Hopefully I can work into that role and Miami will love me like they love D-Wade.”

Kindergarten cop to the rescue

Wilkins is comfortable in just about every room he enters, but on this day in the spring of 2018, he’s anxious. His responsibility is more unpredictable than wreaking havoc on Alabama’s left tackle. Wilkins has to care for a few dozen 4- and 5-year-olds.

At James M. Brown Elementary in Walhalla, South Carolina, he’s known simply as Mr. Wilkins — the king-size substitute teacher trying to be inconspicuous with other teachers and accepted by his kids.

“I took him to his kindergarten class in the second half of the day. And one of my kiddos said, in the countriest accent you can imagine, ‘That is one big mister right there,'” principal Ashley Robertson said. “The kid was in pure awe seeing him. It made us all laugh.”

Robertson’s “heartwarming” moment of the day was watching Wilkins hold hands with a little girl he walked back to class from P.E.

In the classroom, Wilkins plays popcorn bingo, hands out snacks, helps with math problems and even attempts to sit in the smaller kindergarten chairs.

“I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Kindergarten Cop.’ They were falling all over me. They were running to me like, ‘Mr. Wilkins, Mr. Wilkins,'” he said. “I was like, ‘Dude, my name is Christian.’ They warm up to you pretty quick and you warm up to them and it’s awesome.

“I bond with kids so much because I feel like it takes a kid to know a kid. I’m a big kid.”

Education has always been important to Wilkins, who earned his bachelor’s degree in communications in 2½ years and his master’s in athletic leadership in just one more year — all at Clemson. He also won the William V. Campbell Trophy in 2018, known as the “academic Heisman.” It was the first time Swinney had a finalist for the award.

“I’m 23 with a master’s degree,” Wilkins said. “That sounds like a Drake line.”

Wilkins was certified to be a substitute teacher toward the end of his Clemson career. His brothers are teachers, and they gave him a step-by-step guideline of how to get involved. It was a perfect opportunity for Wilkins to make $80 a day and share some love with kids. He worked several days at James M. Brown and also taught a few times at Walhalla High School in South Carolina.

“I love empowering young people. I always looked for role models growing up. You don’t see many African American male teachers,” Wilkins said. “I came in expecting to have an impact on the kids, and they ended up teaching me things.”

Minimalist penny-pincher

It’s draft weekend, and Drew Gamere, who coached Wilkins in high school at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, is listening to the future top-15 pick rattle off NFL cities with the highest tax rates that he would rather avoid — if he had a choice. He lists the California teams, New York/New Jersey teams and the Vikings.

Gamere was about to laugh it off before realizing just how serious it was to Wilkins, who valued this more than other typical priorities such as weather, city size or proximity to home. When the Dolphins selected him, Wilkins was pumped — for more than just the traditional reasons.

“I know I have no state income taxes, so I’m excited about that,” he said.

The stories of Wilkins’ frugality are plentiful to the point that The Wall Street Journal called him the “most frugal player in the draft.” It’s an honor Wilkins holds dear.

He often showered, ate and hung out at the facility until late at night to avoid high utility bills. He didn’t own a car during college. He lived in campus housing for most of his college career to avoid paying rent before finally getting an apartment for $300 per month.

“He’s so cheap,” Swinney said. “He wouldn’t turn his air conditioning on. Guys would go over there, and it was hot. But that’s Christian, he’s a frugal guy.”

In May, Wilkins signed a four-year, $15.44 million fully guaranteed contract with almost $10 million due to him in 2019. But don’t expect any splurging from Wilkins, who, as the youngest of eight kids growing up in a lower-income household, said he has been a minimalist since he was an adolescent.

His biggest spending vice is food, so he learned how to cook. He would invite Clemson teammates for dinner on Sundays because he loved to host and show off his cooking skills. (His teammates were clearly willing to put up with the heat in the house to eat what he made.)

Affecting lives

Word got back to Wilkins that some Suffield players were acting up on social media and causing disciplinary problems. The proud alum called Gamere and requested to speak to the team.

Gamere connected Wilkins via FaceTime with the entire team, then left the meeting room. Wilkins professed what it means to be a Suffield athlete, and Gamere said the players took the message to heart and began to change their actions. Wilkins, even years later, maintains that leadership quality and connection to the school.

He says that Suffield Academy — a boarding school 20 minutes from his childhood home in Springfield, Massachusetts — is an oyster that changed his life and that he’ll always make it a part of himself going forward.

Gamere called Wilkins “a culture-changer” as he told myriad stories about Wilkins’ effect on his program. Swinney raved about how veteran players follow Wilkins’ lead, and his teammates describe him as a fierce, loyal companion you can’t help but love.

“He’s like a Saint Bernard,” Ferrell said last year. “Maybe you’re mad and you go in the house to sit on the couch. He just runs and jumps on your lap. And you’re like, ‘No, no get off me.’ He licks your face, and you’re just like, ‘All right, I love you, doggie.'”

Despite all of Wilkins’ warm and fuzzy intangibles, there’s no doubt the Dolphins are getting a warrior on the field.

“It might surprise you because he’s a jokester and a teddy bear off the field, but I’ve never had a guy more in love with the grind of what it takes to be great than Christian,” Swinney said. “He loves to practice and train, especially when nobody wants to.”

Wilkins says all of these traits — hard work, colorful personality, leadership, humility, refusal to care what anybody thinks — came from his grandfather Eurie Stamps Sr.

Stamps, a father figure for Wilkins, was killed by a SWAT team officer in 2011 while watching a basketball game in his apartment. A SWAT team raided Stamps’ apartment looking for his stepson and two others suspected of selling drugs. An officer’s rifle discharged and killed Stamps, 68, while Stamps was lying on the ground.

Somehow, Wilkins has avoided anger or bitterness, deciding to turn that pain into inspiration. He says his top goal is to “allow my grandfather’s legacy to live through me and my actions.” He wore No. 42 at Clemson to honor the year Stamps was born.

Good energy for 2019

In Miami, Wilkins will reunite with Dolphins defensive line coach Marion Hobby, who also coached him at Clemson. They have a great relationship, and Swinney predicted they will be like “two pigs in the mud” once the pads come on in training camp.

“I have to smile when I say Christian Wilkins,” Hobby said. “I just naturally smile, because I remember even in the toughest moments — in meeting rooms early in the morning after a loss — and his personality is good. He’s coming in like he’s been up for four hours saying ‘Hey, what’s going on, guys?'”

Hobby is still amazed that Wilkins earned All-American honors at defensive tackle and defensive end with Clemson, and Wilkins is expected to play both roles for the Dolphins.

General manager Chris Grier said he had to smile when Wilkins confidently stated that drafting him was the best decision Grier has ever made. He sure hopes that Wilkins is right and that the Dolphins are ready to harness the rookie’s energy.

Said Dolphins coach Brian Flores: “He’s a fun-loving guy. For me, someone who is straight-edged, he brings good energy in a good way.”

Wilkins’ career in Miami is just beginning, but it seems the possibilities of what he can become on and off the field are limitless.

“Christian got every ounce out of his college experience. He’ll get everything he can out of his NFL experience and then he’ll move on to the next thing,” Swinney said. “If he stays healthy, he’ll be one of most impactful people that the Dolphins have ever had.”

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Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay Packers lobbied in fourth for Allen Lazard to play



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers wanted Allen Lazard on the field, and Lazard wanted Rodgers to throw him the ball.

Both moves helped save the Green Bay Packers on Monday night against the Detroit Lions.

Even with Davante Adams already out for a second straight game with turf toe and Geronimo Allison knocked out of the game with a head and chest injury, the Packers still didn’t immediately turn to Lazard.

In fact, it wasn’t until after rookie receiver Darrius Shepherd dropped a pass at the Lions’ 1-yard line — it actually ricocheted off his facemask and was intercepted — that the Packers finally went to the relatively unknown 6-foot-5 receiver.

And not until Rodgers asked for him.

“I may have put in a good word there in the fourth quarter to get him some opportunities,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said he went to receivers coach Alvis Whitted and asked “if [No. 13] could come in for a little bit.”

Four catches, 65 yards and a touchdown later, the Packers had a new hero. Yes, Mason Crosby officially finished off the 23-22 victory with a 23-yard last-second field goal — with his wife, Molly, in the stands a mere six weeks after she underwent surgery to remove a cancerous spot in her lung.

But if not for Lazard, who before Monday night had never caught a pass in a regular-season game from Rodgers, the Packers might not be 5-1 and atop the NFC North.

Down 22-13, Rodgers first went to Lazard on deep ball that fell incomplete. One play later, Rodgers went back to him, and it turned into a 35-yard touchdown.

It was Lazard’s first catch of the season and just the second of his career.

Last season, the former undrafted free agent from Iowa State who originally signed the Jaguars and then was signed by the Packers off Jacksonville’s practice on Dec. 18 played one snap and caught one pass for 7 yards. It came in the regular-season finale against the Lions after Rodgers had left the game because of a concussion.

Before Sunday, Lazard had played just 21 snaps and his only target wasn’t even an official target because pass interference was called in the Week 4 loss to the Eagles.

Yet there was Lazard after Monday night’s game oozing confidence.

“I’m made for this s—,” Lazard said.

Lazard’s other three catches all came on the game-winning drive. Two went for first downs.

“I actually sit next to him in the team meetings, and we’ve struck up a pretty good friendship,” Rodgers said. “The thing that got me was, which you love as a quarterback, and that’s receivers coming back and telling you he wants the ball and what routes he wants to run. The big first down we had to him on the out route, that was him coming back to the huddle and telling me what play he wanted. For a young guy to do that, how can you not have confidence in that.”

Rodgers said coach Matt LaFleur had two play calls in mind.

“I said go with the first one because I’m going to throw it to Allen and we’re going to move the sticks,” Rodgers said. “And we did.”

All this for a player the Packers cut at the end of training camp in favor of Shepherd.

“I was definitely worried he was going to get picked up because the production was there in preseason,” Rodgers said.

After no one claimed Lazard off waivers, the Packers re-signed him to their practice squad immediately and then promoted him to the active roster the day before the season opener at Chicago.

“I honestly just believed in myself,” Lazard said. “I knew what my capabilities were. I know the talent that I have, I know the production that I produced before. It’s a different stage, but it’s the same to me.”

It’s unclear when Adams will return; he said last week that his toe “doesn’t feel how I want it to feel at the moment.” And Allison’s injury could potentially be serious. But it’s clear Rodgers thinks he has a new reliable weapon in Lazard.

“I think sometimes you have an injury or whatnot or for whatever reason and that’s how some guys become who they are,” LaFleur said. “He was given his opportunity and to his credit, he was ready for that opportunity.”

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Tracy Walker of Detroit Lions goes off on referees after loss



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Awful. It was the first word out of Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker’s mouth late Monday night when he was asked about the unnecessary roughness call against him when he collided with Packers receiver Geronimo Allison on the first play of the third quarter.

Walker was flagged for 15 yards on the incomplete pass — and after said he was just going for the ball, criticizing the officiating while explaining it.

“Awful. It was an awful call,” Walker said. “I felt like I went for the ball and just so happened we collided, but I was looking for the ball. It was an awful call by them. It is what it is, though.”

Walker said he wasn’t even trying to make contact with Allison and was going for a potential interception of an Aaron Rodgers pass. They collided, he said, but he was “attacking the ball.” When asked if the defensive back has the right to go for the ball in that case, referee Clete Blakeman explained what he saw in a postgame pool report.

“That’s a good question, but the reality is, it is strict liability for a defensive player,” Blakeman said. “In this case, he may be going for the ball and not intending to hit the helmet, but when there’s helmet contact, it is a foul in that situation.”

Blakeman said even if Walker had intercepted the pass, he still would have been flagged.

Walker used the word “awful” five times to describe some of the penalty calls against the Lions in a 23-22 loss to Green Bay on Monday night.

“Extremely pissed off right now,” Walker said. “It is what it is. Disappointed. Hurt. We had that game. I’m going to say the same s—. We should have won it. It is what it is, though. Got to bounce back.”

When asked who he was pissed at, Walker blamed, well, everything.

“Honestly, just the whole game in itself, the end result,” Walker said. “I felt like we could have had a better game and we were supposed to come out victorious with that game, you know, but Green Bay came to play.

“There were some awful, awful calls. But we got to play through them and overcome those.”

When told he might get fined for his comments, Walker said “whatever. It don’t even matter. It is what it is.”

Walker wasn’t the only Lions player unhappy with officiating Monday night. Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara tweeted and later deleted about Green Bay offensive lineman David Bakhtiari appearing to put hands in a Lions’ defender’s face. The tweet featured a photo that appeared to show Bakhtiari with hands to the face of a Lions defender and included illustrative arrows.

And defensive end Trey Flowers was flagged twice for illegal use of the hands on third downs in the fourth quarter that would have ended drives but instead granted the Packers 5 yards and automatic first downs. He explained multiple times what he was actually doing after the game.

“I actually changed the position of my hand because it was to the chest initially,” said Flowers, his pads still on after the game. “Which is right here. I was doing it all game. I didn’t know that was a flag to the chest so I could change it to [motioning somewhere else on his chest]. They called it again.”

When asked if he thought it was a penalty, Flowers said “nah, I didn’t think hands to the chest was a penalty. I thought hands to the face. But I had them right here on the chest. Second time I changed it to right here.

“That’s part of a move that I do and yeah. I don’t think it’s a penalty.”

Flowers again reiterated that it’s part of a move he does and that if he slipped, he would have agreed it would be a flag, but he didn’t slip.

Blakeman then explained what the umpire who threw the flag, Jeff Rice, saw on the fouls.

“The umpire threw both of them. The last one was really the only one I’ve discussed with him,” Blakeman said. “Basically, it’s for illegal use of the hands, hands-to-the-face foul. To be a foul, we basically need some forceful contact that’s prolonged to the head and neck area of the defender.

“So, in his mind he had pinned him back, it was prolonged, and that’s what created the foul.”

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Lions safety Quandre Diggs sits vs. Packers with hamstring injury



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Lions safety Quandre Diggs sat out Detroit’s 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.

Diggs, 26, has been a key part of Detroit’s defense and was a Pro Bowl alternate last year. He injured his hamstring against Kansas City in Week 4 and was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday. He did a little more work Saturday but still not a complete set of work.

Diggs has 13 tackles on the year.

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