Danny Watkins is likely going to be drafted by some NFL team next April, and he still doesn't know what he's doing.
"There are still sometimes I don't know all of the rules," the Baylor left tackle told me today in a phone interview.
Give him a break. You spend your formative years playing hockey or rugby, ignore football and then try to go play. Football is a complex sport with a trillion rules, and he's learning on the fly as he plays.
When asked how long he's played football, he paused.
"Four years, I think," he said.
How does one go from being completely obtuse to football to the brink of being an NFL draft pick?
No. 1. Grow up in Kelowna, British Columbia where no one cares about football.
No. 2. Become a firefighter where your captain suggests you hit the weights and try to play.
This is how Watkins, a 6-4, 310-pound monster, arrived in Waco to play.
At 25, he's an old man to be an NFL rookie, or even a college senior. He's on track to earn his degree from Baylor in May. But he's here, grateful, and on the brink of something he never saw coming.
Mac Engel: Did you ever watch football at all growing up?
Danny Watkins: No. I had played rugby and hockey. I never watched football. The thing in our house was Hockey Night in Canada. My dad and step dad would go to our grandpas place and watch. That was the thing to do. I never watched the other stuff.
ME: How did you happen upon football?
DW: I was a firefighter, and my captain told me if I beefed up that I'd be a monster. I beefed up a little bit, but not too much because I didn't want to fall through floors or anything. Then a buddy of mine told me about Butte College in California. I looked into it; they had a good fire sciences program there so I tried.
ME: What did you find out when you started at Butte College?
DW: I spoke with the coaches there and they said you can do better than this with how big you are. You can really go somewhere with football. You can go to the CFL. I thought, 'That's a bit of a stretch.' But it can happen.
ME: What has been the hardest part of this transition?
DW: The lingo and the terminology of the game. I still don't know some of the rules and staff. All of my coaches have really been helpful and patient with me.
ME: When your time at Butte College was up, where did you look playing at four-year schools?
DW: I had a bunch of offers - Hawaii, Cal, Arkansas, a bunch of WAC and MAC schools. I had talked to the some of the coaches at Baylor, and really liked them. So one week I took off for a visit and went to Waco and just really liked it.
ME: If you weren't playing football what would you be doing?
DW: Back home in Canada working as a firefighter. That's all I ever wanted to do. It's a great job and I worked with the greatest bunch of guys in the world. You'll never find a better bunch of guys.
ME: You have to be stunned at this development in your life.
DW: It's funny, I was talking to my family the other night about that. How well I did in sports. We never thought it would take off like this. I didn't see this coming down the pike, that's for sure.
ME: You're Canadian, so you have to be a huge hockey fan.
DW: Oh yeah, Canucks for sure. Big Trevor Linden fan. Really like Chris Pronger. The goon types since that's what I was when I played.
ME: What position did you play when you played?
DW: Well, I was a goon really. The whistle blew and the gloves were usually off and then it was off to the penalty box. I played defense; I would just camp out in front of the net and any poor little bugger that wanted to stand there it was going to be a long day. I miss playing.
ME: What is harder to play - hockey, rugby or football?
DW: Hockey requires a lot of athletic skill. So that part was easy to carry over to playing football, and this position. Rugby, you aren't wearing any pads. So those two are a combination of all of them. Football is really physical and I like it.
ME: Have you really thought about playing in the NFL yet?
DW: I try not to look to far into it. You hear so many things, so I really try not to look too far down the road.
- Mac Engel