DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are more than just two first-round NFL wide receivers who were former teammates at Clemson.
Hopkins refers to the second-year Bills wide receiver as his "little bro." Hopkins is in the midst of a breakout season with 81 receptions, 1,081 yards receiving, and nine touchdowns. Watkins is gaining momentum after a two-game stretch with just three catches and 14 and 39 yards receiving in Weeks 10 and 11 and an ankle injury that kept him out of two games earlier this year. During a rough patch for Watkins, it was Hopkins he leaned on for encouragement.
"I was having bad times with not getting the ball, and little situations, and he just told me to stay focused and you can't control everything," Watkins said Wednesday. "Then the next thing you know I have a great game. 158 yards, two TD's, and he texted me 'God's got a plan, man, just take it slow.' And that was big when he reached out to me."
Hopkins says the two built a bond during their two seasons together at Clemson (2011-2012). The Texans third-year receiver always knew he'd be close with Watkins, even if they ended up as division rivals in the NFL. Now, the two seem to follow each other's careers from across the country.
When I asked Watkins if he had a chance to keep up with Hopkins and his record-breaking season this year, he laughed.
"I have no choice," Watkins said. "I see him on 'Sports Center' like every week. So basically a lot."
Watkins is very familiar with the one-handed, eye-catching grabs each week, referring to Hopkins as one of the top receivers in the league. He saw many of those highlight-worthy receptions first-hand at Clemson. The two would have friendly competitions in practice, trying to outdo one another with their acrobatic catches.
"We had competitions in college – catching the ball, having the crazy catches, one-on-ones and really having stats in the whole season, who got the catches and yards," Watkins said. "We really competed with other teams more."
Watkins says he and Hopkins are still very similar in their thinking and their disciplined approach to the game, having been coached the hardest and held to the highest standards during their collegiate career.
It extends beyond football too. He even joked that he's started dressing more like Hopkins.
"I was actually from Florida," Watkins said. "So we wore kind of baggy clothes, baggy jeans. Then when I got to Clemson it was like, 'Man, what are you doing with those baggy jeans on? You need to put some tighter jeans on.' That's when I kind of changed up my swag."
Hopkins isn't surprised.
"He's still probably got some of my clothes from Clemson," Hopkins said. "I think like draft day when I saw him in New York he had a jacket of mine, but I didn't say anything to him. That's my little bro."