As part of the campaign, I had the chance to sit down (virtually of course) with Wilkins to discuss how he’s adjusting to year two under Brian Flores, what he’s seen from rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, his favorite Hamilton songs, his involvement in PepsiCo’s campaign, and much more.
We kicked off our discussion with some talk on how playing in an empty stadium affects a player’s mindset during the game. Let’s be honest here: Wilkins went from playing football at one of the most successful high schools in the New England area in Suffield Academy, to starting at Clemson, a university that routinely sells out its football games, to playing in the NFL. The last time Wilkins played in front of such a small (or nonexistent) crowd was likely in his Pop Warner days.
Asked how playing sans fans impacted his game, Wilkins replied, “It was a little weird. It was a little different. I feel like, just from the standpoint of always running out on game day, that’s part of the emotion, the energy, the atmosphere, the pageantry. We just need the fans... It was a little more challenging because you’ve got to bring your own energy. Even when you’re on the road, you need someone booing you.”
Wilkins mentioned just how important it is for him, during these unprecedented times, to still be able to put on the pads, hit the field, and play. “It’s crazy because I love playing the game... it’s a kid’s game and I’ve been doing it my whole life. I get that same high, that same rush compared to the first time I put on a pair of shoulder pads every time I go out there, so for that to almost have been threatened, we almost didn’t get that opportunity this year. I definitely don’t take that for granted.”
Wilkins was selected by the Dolphins with the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Going into his sophomore season, expectations are high for the young defensive lineman. Discussing how he’s prepared for his second year in the NFL, Wilkins noted, “I just put in a lot of work last season, this offseason, watching tape to try to improve my game.”
Wilkins had a tremendous game against the New England Patriots last Sunday, as he applied heavy pressure on quarterback Cam Newton nearly every play, accumulated four total tackles (one for loss), and batted two passes down at the line of scrimmage. That said, Wilkins tries not to put too much stock into his individual play. The outcome of the game for his entire team is far more important. “Ya I had one individual performance that was pretty solid,” Wilkins explained. “People are talking about it. That’s cool, but I want to win at the end of the day. That’s the thing I want most. I have the highest expectations for myself, more than anyone can put on me... At the end of the day, I just want it to matter that I was a part of the team [and] that my play helped to get us wins.”
As Dolphins fans surely remember, Wilkins’ individual performance was particularly special in last year’s Week 15 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. On one goal line play, Wilkins lined up on offense, ran a route to the right, caught a pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick, and got hit as he crossed the plane. Wilkins fumbled into the end zone but quickly jumped on the ball to secure his first career NFL touchdown. Wilkins chuckled as I asked him about that particular play. “It went in the stats as a touchdown!”
I pressed Wilkins on if he would ask head coach Brian Flores about getting some snaps on offense more often. The jovial giant couldn’t help but express his desire to rack up some more points. “Here’s the thing, I’m always lobbying and campaigning. I’m always trying to show that I can do a lot more than just play d-line,” Wilkins went on. “The guys will be throwing around the football. I’ll make sure the coaches are watching. I’ll say, ‘let me get in there and show them I can throw the ball.’ Little quarterback action, maybe a little receiver or something. Coming out of the backfield is cool but maybe I can spread out wide outside the numbers, give ‘em a little release, fade the ball down the field. You know, a boy can dream.”
I joked with Wilkins that Fitzpatrick may feel a bit threatened by Wilkins’ ability to spin a spiral, but apparently, Fitz is all in on the idea of getting Wilkins under center. “I love Fitz too because he’s all on board. That’s my guy,” Wilkins laughed. “He’s always messing with me, telling me to practice my cadence.”
Dolphins fans know at this point that Miami is sporting a new-look team. Plenty of talent has been brought in through free agency and the draft that will surely have an impact on this season’s outcome. According to Wilkins, second-round defensive tackle Raekwon Davis is the man to watch out for. “I definitely like a lot of what Raekwon Davis has been showing [at practice],” Wilkins explained. “He’s a young guy. He’s had a really good camp and showed some great potential. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league as he develops... If he keeps stacking good days on good days, he’s going to be a great player.”
The talk of the town in Miami right now, despite Fitzpatrick owning the starting job at the quarterback position, is rookie fifth-overall draft pick Tua Tagovailoa. Per Wilkins, the young gunslinger has certainly shown what it takes to potentially be a star in the NFL, and that he entered Miami’s organization as advertised. “I definitely think [Tagovailoa] has a lot of the intangibles that you want in a player and a quarterback,” Wilkins explained. “He relates to all his guys. It’s natural how we all came together. He’s a good dude. [He] wants to be better. He’s in here all the time working on his game... [He’s] soaking things up like a sponge. The biggest thing I see is his ‘want-to’ and his work ethic.”
I couldn’t go into an interview with Christian Wilkins, a man who appears to be the biggest Hamilton fan (or as he refers to himself, a Hamil-Fan), without talking some broadway hits. “I have two original favorites [songs], but every time I watch or listen to the soundtrack, I’ll notice something about the play or a song that I didn’t notice the first time, so it almost changes every time. My original favorites were ‘Helpless’ and ‘The Story of Tonight’... I’m a ballad guy. I get a little in my feelings.”
(For what it’s worth, my go-to Hamilton track is “Room Where It Happens.” It’s on my workout playlist).
Wilkins didn’t stop there. “I would say the best quote from Hamilton is ‘What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.’’ Suffice it to say, Wilkins knows his Hamilton.
The most comical nugget I discovered from our entire conversation revolves around a special bond Wilkins shares with his starting quarterback regarding the show. “Me and Fitzy actually bonded a lot over Hamilton. He’s a smart guy. He loves his Hamilton,” Wilkins explained. “We’ll speak Hamilton to each other.” To give an example, Wilkins pointed to his left, and imitating the infamous Aaron Burr, he uttered the oft-quoted line: “Pardon me.” He continued, “We’ll just take it and run with it and play off each other.”
Wilkins will next take the field this Sunday for Miami’s Week 2 contest against the Buffalo Bills. Hopefully, if we listen hard enough, we’ll catch Wilkins singing a Lin Manuel Miranda line or two.
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