Just shy of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Baylor guard Danny Watkins plans to maximize his trip to the NFL draft in New York City, and it will be a way to honor his roots as he makes a major lifestyle transition.
Watkins, who worked as a firefighter in his native Canada before starting his football career, is bringing a half dozen firemen from his old firehouse to the draft — his chief, four captains and one firefighter. They're going to pay their respects at Ground Zero, hang out at one of the local firehouses and go to the FDNY headquarters to meet some of New York's fire chiefs.
"That's going to be a good time," Watkins said. "I'm really looking forward to seeing them. I'm excited for that."
Watkins will likely be one of the first two guards drafted, and he'll be off the board late in the first round or early in the second. The Patriots, who might have a need at the position due to Logan Mankins' situation, spoke with Watkins at the Senior Bowl and the combine.
"It would be an honor and a pleasure [to be drafted by New England], that's for sure," said Watkins, who has met with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. "There's a lot of tradition and a lot of pride there. It's definitely somewhere I'd love to play."
Watkins worked as a firefighter for four years in British Columbia before enrolling in the fire sciences program at Butte Community College in California in 2007. He joined the football team — without any organized football experience — based on the recommendation from a friend who said he should take advantage of his size and hopefully earn a scholarship. After two years, he got his chance at Baylor, where he started all 25 games at left tackle.
Watkins made the switch to guard at the Senior Bowl and might be most often compared to Mankins, which would shed some obvious light on the Patriots' interest. He's got a great reputation off the field, but he plays with a nasty streak between the lines.
"I don't think about going out and playing mean," Watkins said. "I like playing physical and aggressive, and if people compare that to someone else, yeah, that guy plays mean and aggressive, too. That's awesome. I don't think I'm a jerk off the field by any means. On the field, play time is over, so I guess you could say that."
It's a wild path, for sure, and his late start might be the only thing that hinders his draft stock. But Watkins, who will turn 27 in November, is happy with every choice he's made along the way, even if he still hasn't grasped the reality of how much his life will again change this week.
"I don't think it's really set in yet, what's coming up, so it's been a heck of a trip, that's for sure," Watkins said. "It's kind of funny looking back at it and seeing how it all came about. I'm glad I made the choices that I did, that's for sure. With a little bit of luck and some hard work, it has really panned out."