CLEMSON, S.C. — While Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins worked to defuse the controversy surrounding a play in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in which he grabbed the groin of Ohio State‘s Curtis Samuel, teammate Ben Boulware threw fuel on the fire Wednesday.
“We’ve done it all year to mess with players,” Boulware said. “No one has done it as aggressive as Christian did. We try to be more discreet about it. He grabbed a handful.”
Following a short run by Samuel in Clemson’s 31-0 win, Wilkins was caught on camera appearing to grab at the Buckeyes tailback’s groin. The play quickly went viral, with many Ohio State fans calling the play dirty and suggesting Wilkins should be suspended or even arrested for sexual assault.
Wilkins apologized after the game, saying he was “just being silly” and “it’s stuff you do when you’re competing.” He declined additional comments Wednesday, saying he was simply focused on Clemson’s date with Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he spoke with Wilkins and was OK with his apology.
“We don’t have a better guy on this team than Christian Wilkins,” Swinney said.
Boulware was asked about the controversy, too, and his response was far more impassioned than Wilkins’.
“The game is so serious and locked in, and you do stuff to break up the seriousness of the game,” Boulware said. “People are trying to say sexual assault, and people who say that have never played football, never been in a locker room, seen the weird stuff — we’re together every day for years, and you get very comfortable with each other.”
“Christian [Wilkins] went a little too far. But I’ll mess with somebody, poke them in the belly button, grab someone’s butt. People freaking out about that have never played the game or they were losers with no friends when they played. It’s annoying it’s brought so much attention to it, trying to divert the attention that we beat them by 31 points.””
Clemson LB Ben Boulware
Boulware said the pokes and grabs have been a means of getting into the heads of other players during a game, as he did when he poked South Carolina lineman Zack Bailey in another highlight that has become social media fodder in the aftermath of Wilkins’ play.
“Zack Bailey didn’t care,” Boulware said. “He’s like, ‘Do y’all practice that at Clemson?’ and I said, ‘No, we practice beating you by 49 points.'”
Boulware said the reaction to Wilkins’ play is a means of diverting attention from Clemson’s dominant win in the semifinal.
“Christian went a little too far,” Boulware said. “But I’ll mess with somebody, poke them in the belly button, grab someone’s butt. People freaking out about that have never played the game or they were losers with no friends when they played. It’s annoying it’s brought so much attention to it, trying to divert the attention that we beat them by 31 points.”
Several players suggested similar plays were common at the bottom of a pile.
“People would be appalled, speechless if they knew,” Clemson center Jay Guillermo said. “People were giving [Wilkins] a hard time, and I was like, he’s not the only one.”
Boulware said the play, while indiscreet, was not dirty and has been common during games this season.
“The worst thing I’ve done all year was poke Zach Bailey in the butt. Should I really be suspended because I touched his butt?” Boulware said. “People trying to get Christian suspended for grabbing this dude’s butt — he didn’t stomp on his ankle or punch him in his private parts. He didn’t do anything but grab his butt. Is it really that big of a deal?”
Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson made it clear where he stands on the topic.
“They better not try me like that,” he said. “That’s all I got to say.”