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Watkins fired up about draft


"Start here…Go Anywhere!"

In the case of Danny Watkins, the Butte College slogan applies, to say the least.

In 2007, Watkins enrolled at the junior college as a hockey-playing Canadian barely familiar with the game of football.

Now, Watkins is poised to possibly be a first-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft.

"I grew up playing competitive sports, and there wasn't a hockey rink at Butte, so I figured I'd give it a try," Watkins said. "Things have taken off."

That would be an understatement.

Not only did Watkins enroll at Butte having never played football; he enrolled there with no intention of playing football, choosing the California school because of his interest in its fire sciences program.

Watkins had been a firefighter for four years in his native British Columbia. He only decided to give football a try after a friend suggested he consider it as a possible avenue to a scholarship.

"I played hockey and rugby in high school. Those were the sports to play," Watkins said. "I never really watched football. I watched the (Vancouver) Canucks, and that was it.

"The Canadian Football League highlights were on after the Canucks games, so I'd stay tuned and watch that to see who won."

Watkins must have been watching closely, because he picked up the nuances of football at an extremely rapid rate. In 2008, he helped Butte – where Super Bowl MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers once played - go undefeated and rank No. 1 in the junior college ranks.

Watkins soon he had scholarship offers from several top college football programs. He chose Baylor, where he made an immediate impact. The Bears' burgeoning program had just lost left tackle Jason Smith - selected second overall in the 2009 draft by the St. Louis Rams - and Watkins stepped right into Smith's shoes.

Watkins started all 25 games over his two seasons in Waco. Last year, he led the team in knockdown blocks in every game and graded out as the top offensive lineman in all but one game. Watkins helped a Baylor squad that ranked 13th in the nation in total offense advance to its first bowl game since 1994.

Though a professional hockey career wasn't in the cards for Watkins ("270 pounds in the 12th grade, there aren't many players in the NHL that size," he said), he believes hockey helped him become pro football material.

"The way you put your feet in the run game is similar to skating," Watkins said. "Obviously, moving backwards in hockey was very natural to me, like in pass protection. A lot has been able to carry over to my benefit."

One thing that might work against Watkins' benefit is his age. Because he spent four years after high school fighting fires, he'll enter the draft at age 26.

"Well, I don't have arthritis," Watkins said. "I'm a little more mature than the other guys. I don't think it's a negative."

Plus, there were lessons learned from his days spent with his fellow firefighters.

"I miss the guys," Watkins said, "but I get the same satisfaction from football, from working with the same guys day in and day out.

"To get to this point, you have to love it, have to make it a passion."


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