Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 8:30 p.m.
By Gordie Jones
Danny Watkins dad operates a road grader back in British Columbia. And according to the elder Watkins, his son can flick a switch and turn into one.
Hes like the guard dog at home that plays with the kids, licking the kids, Todd Watkins said Friday afternoon, after Danny, an offensive lineman from Baylor and the Eagles first-round draft pick, was formally introduced in a news conference at the teams practice facility.
Then afterward, Todd continued, he goes out in the yard and it gets dark and grrr he aint nice no more.
Which is why the younger Watkins had been standing on stage in the auditorium next to head coach Andy Reid a few minutes earlier, posing for photographs: The Eagles believed that they needed a little more nastiness along their offensive front, a few more bodies. (Recall that they allowed 49 sacks last year; only three teams yielded more.)
Danny Watkins, who turns 27 in November, is older than most rookies. He is also late to the game, having taken it up only four years ago when he went to Butte College, a junior college in Oroville, Calif., that had previously served as a springboard for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and years before that, longtime Cowboys guard Larry Allen.
Watkins displayed his guard-dog side during Fridays presser. Also, his businesslike side. While he was excited to meet Eagles quarterback Michael Vick at the facility earlier in the day and while he had undergone the 24-hour whirlwind typical of every draftee he betrayed little of the giddiness of someone in that situation.
Ive been in the real world, said Watkins, who spent five years as a volunteer fireman in his hometown of Kelowna, B.C. This is a business. This is a job. I can approach it like that and hope to do well in it.
There will be time enough for the nasty side, for the side that was honed on the rugby fields and the hockey rinks of his native country. He took up hockey at age six, and was a defenseman. Also, in time, the designated goon, as he admitted with a laugh.
His dad claimed that was overblown.
He would check somebody, and the whistle would always go tweet roughing the player, Todd said. He would check them and he would scoop them in his two arms, and hed lay them down on the ice, or take them over to the bench and lay them in front of the bench, and the whistle would still blow tweet. There was no way he could check somebody. The refs would always be watching for too much roughing in the young-kid games.
And it wasnt like he was trying to hurt anybody.
They were all his friends, the elder Watkins said. But the light goes on and the light goes off.
Danny was, however, super powerful on skates, according to his dad. And the skills he learned in that sport would later translate to football.
I saw the similarities right off the bat his lateral movement, Todd said. To be a good skater you have to move forward and move back. Same with football having the legs to do it, and the stamina, and the air. It became natural for him.
But Dannys introduction to the sport was delayed while he pursued fire service, something with which he first became involved at age 16 because, he said, it was an excuse to get out of class.
He soon grew more serious about it and spent those five years as a volunteer. Then he went away to Butte and went out for football for the first time.
The transition, he claimed, wasnt as bad as might be expected.
I was having a lot of fun with it, he said. I grew up playing hockey and rugby. Its a team environment, so youre going to be having a good time, no matter what youre doing.
He spent two years at Butte, becoming a junior college All-American the second of those, and two more at Baylor; he was an All-Big 12 selection last fall. And now hes an Eagle or will be, once a labor agreement is in place.
He talked about bringing in his work boots and hard hat when the time is right. Until then, he plans to work out in Waco.
But this week, Danny has allowed himself to bask in the glow. He visited a firehouse in New York on Thursday, and another in Philadelphia on Friday. He celebrated with friends and family. It has all been a little bit overwhelming, he admitted.
To tell the truth, we werent even on planning on going to New York, he said. My draft party was going to consist of sitting around, hanging around with the family, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt. And now Im sitting here today, so I kind of feel like Tom Cruise a little bit.
It wasnt too different for his dad, who these last four years has only occasionally made it to Dannys games; more often he has listened to them on a jerry-rigged radio, while operating the road grader. No way, the elder Watkins said, could he have pictured his son being a first-round draft pick.
Even until four years ago, Todd said, when he came down to play for Butte, I thought Ah, this is just a vent for my saved money, because hes going to school and having the time of his life, meeting lots of girls. And Im paying for the whole thing. I was sort of a little cynical on it there for a while.
No longer. Now he believes his son can flick a switch, and go to work.
Gordie Jones is an award-winning journalist who has worked in the Philadelphia market for 28 years. He also co-authored a book about the 76ers' 1982-83 championship team with former Sixers general manager Pat Williams.For more from Gordie, check out his blog.
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