The 6-foot-3, 310-pound guard who was signed on Tuesday after being released by the Philadelphia Eagles was an avid hockey player and rugby player as a youngster with a keen interest in becoming a fireman. He became a junior firefighter at the age of 16 after visiting the West Kelowna Fire and Rescue Department in his hometown in the province of British Columbia.
“I went to a junior college in California (Butte College) to kind of advance my fire career and take fire sciences and just kind of open up more doors with that,” said Watkins, who was taken in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft by Philadelphia with the 23rd overall pick out of Baylor University. “Education is really important to me when it comes to the fire service. While I was there, they said why don’t you play football, and in Canada I always played rugby and hockey, and I thought yes, it’d be a great opportunity to have some fun and help me pay for school so why not.”
Watkins suited up for Butte for two seasons – 2007 and 2008 – and helped lead the Roadrunners a perfect 11-0 record in 2008 and a national championship. Butte also happens to be the alma mater of Green Bay Packers Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.
After that wildly successful season, Butte’s coaches sent his game tape to a number of FBS schools and Baylor, California and Hawaii were the three that showed interest. He was a two-year starter for the Bears and earned first-team All-Big 12 Conference honors as a senior, catching the eye of NFL scouts and leading to his memorable draft day experience when at the age of 26 he became the oldest first-round selection since 1980.
That was a year after the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League selected him in the first round of the 2010 CFL Draft only to see him return to Baylor for his senior season. Now he’s getting a fresh start in Miami with the Dolphins and is approaching it with perspective.
“It makes me appreciate more where I am now,” Watkins said. “I guess you could say I never grew up watching Monday Night Football, I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada with Don Cherry. It was different for me growing up. These last three years have been such a whirlwind and it was a great opportunity to play in the NFL, my college career was great, I loved Baylor and everything they did for me there. Just looking back, six years ago if you would have told me I’d be in the position I am today, I probably would have laughed at you. I’m very fortunate and very blessed to be where I am today.”
Watkins invited five of his fellow firefighters from the West Kelowna fire department to join him in New York City back in 2011 and on the morning of the draft they visited a New York City firehouse that lost several members in the September 11th attacks. It’s that tight bond among firefighters that first attracted Watkins to the profession and he noticed the similarities between a firehouse and a football team.
Even though things didn’t work out for him in Philadelphia as far as sticking with the Eagles for the long term, Watkins is confident he made the right decision to sign with Miami and already likes what he sees in the makeup of the team. He sees something familiar to him.
“I enjoy doing charity work, and helping people like that and I was a fireman in Canada and that’s a very close knit bunch of people,” said Watkins, who started 18 of 23 games in Philadelphia. “I feel that’s going to be the same way here so there’s a lot of parallels when it comes to that, and I’m excited to have that again.”