NFL rookie Trevor Lawrence is probably the most well-known Clemson Tiger graduate today, due to his quarterback skill set and as the first pick in the draft.
But it’s a certainty that he does not possess Clemson’s Bond Distinguished Athletes Award.
Only eight have received it, and this year’s distinction belongs to former Canadian ambassador David Wilkins.
Wilkins accepted the award at Saturday’s Clemson-Boston College football game. He was surprised to be selected but deeply honored.
“I’m more than honored about receiving it,” Wilkins told Reserve & National Guard Magazine. “I know some of the prior recipients… and I know what they have given back to the state and community over their lifetime. And I’m humbled I’m in that incredible company.”
The Bond Distinguished Athletes Award is named after Clemson golfer Steve Bond and given to former Clemson athletes who embody exceptional character, citizenship and service while maintaining school spirit.
Wilkins was presented with a custom-designed gold ring and his name etched on a glass plaque displayed at Memorial Stadium.
He was a four-letter winner in tennis at Clemson during the late 1960s and compiled a 35-15 record in singles and 24-12 mark in doubles for his collegiate career.
Wilkins gravitated to tennis in junior high school, becoming one of the best players in South Carolina in his age group. He brought his court skills to Greenville High School, which won the state championship four out of the five years Wilkins was on the team.
“By the time, I guess 15 or 16, I was all about… trying to be the best tennis player I could be,” he said.
Wilkins’ tennis prowess caught the attention of Clemson and the University of South Carolina. Both universities offered him scholarships.
He became team captain his junior year at Clemson, and the Tigers nearly won the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship but were edged out by the North Carolina Tar Heels.
“I took it very seriously,” Wilkins said. “I worked at it hard… [I was] usually pretty intense about it… The enjoyable thing was winning. Feeling like you accomplished something, set a goal and do it well.”
Bond Distinguished Athlete Award winner rallies in ambassador role
He stopped playing competitively in his mid-30s, but still hit the court recreationally while serving as the ambassador to Canada during President George W. Bush’s second term.
“The ambassadors had a group that played every Saturday morning, so I played with them… to make relationships with other ambassadors,” Wilkins said.
The former ambassador — who served on the West Point Board of Visitors from 2002-05 — went through the ROTC program at Clemson, graduating cum laude and as a distinguished military graduate.
He also comes from a military family. His father served in the Navy during World War II. His uncle was shot down over Tokyo Bay just before the Japanese surrendered, Wilkins said. So being a part of the military was a natural step.
“It made sense to me. It wasn’t even a serious deliberation… I just always assumed I’d go into the Army,” he said.
Ultimately, he decided on a career in the legal profession and attended law school, but served in the Army Reserves for four years.
Wilkins said before the ceremony he was excited about it, and that his family would be on hand for it, too.
“Looking forward to the day tomorrow and having my family going over and getting recognized at the game,” he said. “The most enjoyable part of it, I’ll have my grandchildren… three of them are going to be there.”