NFL draft 'fires' up B.C. lineman

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:01 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS — The story on Day 1 of the NFL Scouting Combine was 26-year old Kelowna, B.C., native Danny Watkins.

Actually, Watkins’ story is so good, it might wind up being a movie one day.

Watkins played his first game of football four years ago. On Thursday, he was surrounded by media types from all over North America, wondering how a 26-year-old former fireman with all of four years of football experience under his belt could wind up one of the top-rated offensive guards heading into April’s NFL draft.

“It’s definitely a change,” Watkins began. “It’s a privilege to be here, that’s for sure.”

But don’t be fooled by that aw shucks, good Canadian boy shtick.

Watkins is here because, when he gets on a football field, he’s all business. The fact that he’s 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 310 pounds doesn’t hurt either.

Four years ago, Watkins was quite prepared to spend the rest of his life living in West Kelowna and fighting fires with the local fire department.

In fact, the only reason the football door was even opened to Watkins is because he wanted to “advance my career with the fire department” by signing up for a Fire Sciences degree at Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif.

If the school name sounds familiar, it’s also where Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers got his start.

Watkins grew up playing hockey and rugby. He gave up both in Grade 12 when he reached 270 pounds.

“You don’t see too many 270-pound hockey players,” he said. And besides, his parents were threatening to quit coming to his games. Something about them deciding they didn’t need to come and watch him sit in the penalty box all night. If they wanted that, they could just send him to his room at home.

Football, though, was never a consideration until he got to Butte and realized there wasn’t an ice rink within 600 miles of the place. Still needing to scratch that competitive itch, he turned to football.

Two successful years later, he transferred to Baylor. Two years after that, he’s projected to go late first round, early second in April’s draft.

Nothing seems to faze this guy. When he got to the Senior Bowl last month in Mobile, NFL people suggested his size was likely more conducive to playing the interior line rather than the left tackle position he played at Baylor.

Watkins made the move like he was changing his shoes.

“It felt pretty good,” he said. “When these teams ask me where I want to play, I tell them: ‘Wherever you feel I can best help and benefit the team.”

Watkins has even found an advantage to the move.

“The X-factor of waiting for the defensive end to come to you and close that distance is gone,” he said. “He’s right there and you can get your hands on him and roll him up and get him moving whatever way you want to right away.”

When one scribe tried to make his age an issue on Thursday, Watkins quickly shot him down telling him: “I don’t have arthritis ... I feel pretty good.”

Chances are he’ll be feeling even better eight weeks from now when his phone rings and some lucky GM is welcoming him to his football team.


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