The Christian Wilkins Experience is frenzied fun, whether it’s in front of a quarter-million people at the NFL Draft or a few dozen grade schoolers in South Florida.
No stage — or audience member — is too large or small.
And his performance is consistent: larger than life, enthusiastic, inclusive and infectious.
The circus came to North Miami Beach Tuesday. Wilkins was the guest of honor at Sabal Palm Elementary on his off-day, recognizing fifth-grader Mya Duncan for demonstrating impeccable responsibility.
Wilkins’ appearance was a surprise to Duncan and her classmates. The event was part of the Dolphins’ Values Matter Miami partnership with Miami-Dade Schools. They together honor one student monthly who exemplifies the district’s nine core values.
Wilkins was the event’s presenter because the Dolphins thought he would be an effective ambassador to school kids.
Granted, it’s not hard to get a bunch of 11 and 12-year-olds to make a little noise. But when Wilkins strutted onto the stage to “Old Town Road” and then raced through the crowd, high-fiving every student along the way, the place went bonkers.
“Kids give you a different sense of perspective and way of looking at things,” Wilkins said after the presentation. “They’re so innocent and naive, not in a bad way. But there’s just that pure joy that life gives them. They’re not worried about anything. They’re just happy to have a friend or have some attention.
“Even me here, some kids don’t know who I am but they’re just happy that a Dolphins player came today and was around them and talked to them and spent some time with them,” he continued. “The level of appreciation and joy and innocence that all kids have is what I love. I’m glad I can be a positive influence.”
Wilkins, a rookie defensive tackle and the Dolphins’ first-round pick in April, has the rare ability to come off as a big kid one moment and an old soul the next.
He’s a comedian, a dancer, a hype man and an actor all in one. It takes great moxie to give NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a flying shoulder bump on stage at the NFL Draft, nearly knocking him over the process.
The show rolled on last Sunday, when he recorded his first sack as a pro. Wilkins celebrated not with a simple dance, but by impersonating the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers — which he’s done since college.
Still, Wilkins wants to be more than just the center of attention. He intends to use his supersized personality to brighten the world around him.
“I’ve been blessed to have the ability to do a lot of different things, but I’m very keen on being a positive influence, especially for kids,” Wilkins said. “I realize a lot of young kids coming up through school don’t get a positive male influence. A lot of teachers are women. I feel like, for me as a man and as a black man, it’s important for me to be a positive influence, a positive role model in the community and in the schools. The younger you are, the better it is to see that. You need to be exposed to that for sure.”
Wilkins isn’t here for just cheap talk or an occasional photo op.
He walks the walk.
What other surefire first-round pick spends his off days in college substitute teaching? Wilkins did that at Clemson. The 6-foot-4, 315-pounder jokes that he was like felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Kindergarten Cop.”
And he hopes to continue the work this offseason. Sharon Krantz, an executive director at Miami-Dade schools, is happy to take his resume.
“He has a passion for education and doing this work, so there was this natural fit,” Krantz said.
The Dolphins felt the same way back in April. New coach Brian Flores was determined to build a new roster with a new culture, and knew his first draft pick would send a message about how he planned to run things.
“I think we drafted a good football player and that to me is more icing on the cake than anything — from a leadership standpoint, you can call it the ‘face of the organization,’ “ Flores said. “Those are the types of guys that we want here. Guys that are good players who exude leadership, who work hard and also want to set an example for their teammates and young kids, get into the community. That’s part of it as well. That’s great. It’s important to Christian, it’s important to me, it’s important to a lot of people in this organization. That’s really icing on the cake.”
Was there a moment during the pre-draft process where Flores had a “This is our guy!” moment?
“When I met Christian, I knew he was a hard-working, good athlete, smart kid,” Flores said. “There was a lot we liked. That’s why we picked him. Was there a moment where I knew this was the guy? I think that’s still evolving. When he gets penalties, I don’t feel that way.”
Oh, there have been a few of those in Wilkins’ young career. Three, to be exact. All costly.
He’s had two regrettable moments so far: First when he illegally body-slammed Chargers running back Austin Ekeler in Week 4. Then when officials kicked him out of the Bills game for throwing a punch at Bills tackle Cody Ford on the second play from scrimmage.
As you’d expect, the discipline-preaching Flores was not impressed.
“You like the emotion,” Flores said. “You want that out of your leaders, especially your young guys. But you’ve got to play with poise also. He’s learning. Again, he’s just a rookie so you can’t expect him to play like a 10-year vet. He’s going to have some rookie mistakes, which he’s had. But he’s learning from them and I think we’re starting to see some improvement, starting to see him get comfortable, not only enough to go out and do some things in the community but on the field as well.”
Flores is bullish on Wilkins’ future, saying he’s never had a player with his exact set of skills before. He’s big, strong and athletic. Throw in the supersized personality, Wilkins has a chance to be the face of the franchise, or at least one of them, for years to come.
“Probably somewhere around middle school, when I started thinking, ‘I don’t know why I ever tried to not be myself or hide who I am,’” Wilkins said. “As I got older, I realized it even more. And it wasn’t until I got to college where it was, ‘I’m unapologetic about who I am. I’m going to be who I am. You’re either going to love me for it or you’re not. Either way, I don’t care. I’m going to be happy about who I am, and as long as it makes me feel good, I don’t care about what anybody says, good or bad.’”