As a highly-touted prospect at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Danny Watkins achieved a certain degree of fame in the football world.
But little, it seems, could have prepared the 6-foot-4, 310-pound West Kelowna product for the magnitude of fanfare and adoration that follows a first-round draft pick of the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles.
During a recent visit to Pennsylvania to meet with his new team, Watkins was overwhelmed by the attention that he—a football player with a firefighting background—elicited from fans in the City of Brotherly Love.
“I can’t walk down the road without someone walking up to me and asking for a picture and start talking to me,” said Watkins, 26, prior to working out Thursday at Pinnacle Elite Athlete at the Capital News Centre in Kelowna.
“It’s not bad, I don’t mind it. But after a while it gets a little much. We went out for lunch and I went out to wash my hands, and the security guy had to come and get me because I couldn’t make it back.
“I know they really appreciate that I was a blue-collar guy and you don’t want to be rude. I’ll just have to get used to it.”
While the attention isn’t nearly as intense back at home in the Okanagan, Watkins is finding he’s now being recognized wherever he goes.
Such is the price of fame for the Mount Boucherie grad, who will spend the next week-and-a-half working out in Kelowna before heading back to Philadelphia to get settled and continue preparing for his rookie season in the NFL.
But exactly when his pro debut will actually occur remains in question as a lockout by NFL team owners is threatening the start of the 2011 season.
Still, Watkins vows to leave no stone unturned when it comes to being ready to play when camp does open. “I think the onus is on me,” Watkins said. “I think a lot of guys are sitting around at home playing X-Box and I don’t think that’s the right thing to be doing.
“Right now, we’re supposed to be in camp, doing our conditioning, doing our drills, going through our offenses, and now we can’t do any of that.
“It’s great for me to come back here and workout with these guys,” added Watkins of Pinnacle physical therapists Randy Goodman and Roy Gillespie.
If and when the contract dispute is settled, the Eagles have some clear and definite plans for Watkins. An offensive tackle throughout college, Philadelphia will convert him to right guard where he’ll provide protection for star quarterback Michael Vick.
Watkins met Vick on his first visit to Philly after the draft and is anxious to get down to work with the speedy, left-handed pivot.
“I was pretty impressed that he was there,” Watkins said of Vick.
“It speaks to his character that he was there waiting, that he was excited to meet me and expressed his excitement, you know, shoring up the offensive line a bit. He explained to me that we, the O-line, is his No. 1 insurance policy, so he likes to take care of us. I’m pretty excited to work with him.”
Even two weeks after being drafted by the Eagles, his meteoric rise through the football world is still a bit surreal for Watkins.
His first passion was firefighting, a profession he first learned as a teenage volunteer at the West Kelowna fire department.
He had never even played football before the age of 22, opting instead for hockey and rugby.
But once on the gridiron, Watkins proved to be an immensely quick study, learning the game at an accelerated pace for two seasons at Butte College in California and for two more years at Baylor.
“I didn’t really care for football all that much,” he said. “It’s funny how it turned out. Sometimes I still can’t believe it.”
Pinnacle Elite’s Roy Gillespie, who has worked with Watkins on and off for the past five years, continues to marvel at both his work ethic, desire and natural abilities.
“He has a freakish work ethic, I mean this guy was always doing stuff on his own,” Gillespie said. “Even before he played football, he would work out here for two hours and then spend two hours running up these stairs in Rutland. Plus in the evening, he’d be working at the fire department, then he could do same thing the next day.
“He also has one of the body types that can take that kind of a workout…He’s a pretty amazing story.”
Whatever fame and fortune follows for Watkins, the amiable kid from West Kelowna plans to remain grounded through it all.
Asked if he might one day forget where he came from, Watkins responded: “I hope not. I just hope they don’t forget me. This has always been home. Whenever I come back between seasons or breaks, this is the first stop on the list.”