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Pete Iacobelli | The Associated Press | January 7, 2014

Watkins leaving Clemson after record-setting career

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Clemson's record-setting wide receiver Sammy Watkins says he's headed to the NFL.

A 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior from Fort Myers, Fla., Watkins confirmed reports that he's leaving school, saying Monday that he is entering May's NFL draft.

We have won 32 games, the ACC and the Orange Bowl since [Watkins] arrived. Pretty obvious the impact he has had.

-- Dabo Swinney, Clemson coach

"After much prayerful consideration, I have decided to take the next step in pursuing my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL," Watkins said in a statement released by Clemson.

Watkins has set 23 school records in three seasons. He finished his career as the most outstanding player of the Orange Bowl in which he caught 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns in No. 12 Clemson's 40-35 win against seventh-ranked Ohio State.

Watkins is considered the top receiver prospect available and a top-15 selection in the NFL draft.

Watkins leaves as the school's all-time leader with 240 receptions, 3,391 receiving yards and 15 games with 100 or more yards. His 27 career touchdowns tied the Clemson mark of former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, who left after his junior season last year and became a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans.

Watkins was an instant sensation from the moment he walked on campus in 2011, helping the Tigers to an 8-0 start and their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in two decades. He was an AP All-American that season with 82 catches, 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Things took a turn as a sophomore due to injuries and a two-game suspension to start the season after Watkins' offseason drug arrest. Watkins pledged to rededicate himself to football and the Tigers and that showed this past fall with single-season school marks of 101 catches and 1,464 yards.

"I would not have this opportunity without the support and encouragement of my family, coaches, teammates, and the best fans in college football. No matter where my next steps may lead, I will always take pride" in Clemson, Watkins said.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney told The Associated Press on Monday that Watkins has shown what can be accomplished when you combine talent and work ethic.

"We have won 32 games, the ACC and the Orange Bowl since he arrived," Swinney said. "Pretty obvious the impact he has had."

Clemson will also be without receiver Martavis Bryant and cornerback Baushad Breeland, both who announced they'd given up their final seasons for the NFL draft.

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