“Lining up against double and triple teams is easy…”
The challenges of being an NFL defensive lineman pale in comparison to those faced every day by our teachers and education professionals, or at least that is what Miami Dolphins DL Christian Wilkins has come to find.
Selected in the first round (No. 13 overall) in 2019, the former Clemson standout took an unconventional path on his way to the big stage — one that enabled him to earn two degrees in four years and bank over $15,000 as a full-time, first-generation student-athlete.
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Substitute Teaching, Savings Opened Doors For Wilkins
Having garnered national attention from football coaches and programs dating back to his high school days at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, Wilkins was faced with a tough decision to declare for the NFL Draft following his junior season in 2017. But after discussing the opportunity with his family, Clemson teammates and Head Coach Dabo Swinney, he elected to return for his senior year to complete his Master’s degree.
It was in that decision that Wilkins was able to lean into his passion for helping younger kids as a substitute teacher, all while leading the Tigers to their second college football championship in three years and becoming the first Campbell Trophy winner, otherwise known as the “academic Heisman Trophy,” in school history.
While the three-time All American has had to step away from substitute teaching for the time being, today he continues to support and mentor youth through Capital One’s new First-Gen Focus program, which helps first-generation college students like himself with personal finance, career development and emotional wellbeing.
“I’ve always been someone who thought big picture and always understood that football is going to end for me someday, but through a lot of the things I learned in college and through a lot of things that I’ve experienced, I feel like I’ll be ready for it,” Wilkins told Heavy.com. “That’s why I thought it was important to partner with Capital One on this program to share those experiences with other college students, especially first-generation college students.”
Wilkins, New Regime Part of Resurgence in Miami
On the field, the 24-year-old Wilkins continues to be counted on as one of the team’s building blocks. With 20 total tackles (2 TFL), 4 pass breakups, 1.0 sack and a fumble recovery through Week 7, the freakishly athletic defensive lineman is already on pace to surpass the marks he set in 14 starts as a rookie.
Following two straight divisional losses to open the season, the Dolphins are 3-1 over their last four games and now sit in second place in the AFC East in only the second year under the leadership of Head Coach Brian Flores. After a surprising change at the quarterback position last week, Miami has shifted its focus toward the future as the team’s most recent first-round pick, QB Tua Tagovailoa, will now take the reins from Ryan Fitzpatrick on offense.
With up-and-comers like Wilkins, DeVante Parker and Myles Gaskin also at the forefront of the youth movement, the future of the Dolphins appears to be in good hands.