B.C. lineman lands in Philly as a first-rounder

Guard Danny Watkins from Baylor University holds up a jersey onstage after being selected as the...

Guard Danny Watkins from Baylor University holds up a jersey onstage after being selected as the 23rd overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 NFL football Draft in New York, April 28, 2011. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The guys from FDNY Engine 505 were sitting on the bumper of their bright red rig in midtown Manhattan early Thursday evening, chewing the fat, huffing on some cigars and watching the top prospects for the NFL draft walk down the red carpet and into Radio City Music Hall, which was located just across the street.

Suddenly, they received an unexpected visitor -- Danny Watkins, the kid from Kelowna, B.C., who had been a volunteer fireman himself back home in Canada.

It was still several hours before Watkins would be made the 23rd pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, becoming just the fourth Canadian ever selected in the first round. At this moment in time, however, the only thing on his mind was greeting his firefighting brothers.

As Watkins went over to meet the firemen, NFL security officials were caught completely off-guard.

"Go with him and make sure he's okay," yelled a supervisor.

Usually, Watkins is the one doing the protecting instead of needing it. As a highly coveted offensive lineman out of Baylor, he has shown remarkable progress for a guy that started playing serious football just only four years ago.

The Eagles obviously agreed, picking Watkins at least six or seven spots higher than most mock drafts had projected.

As Watkins stood on the stage holding up his green No. 1 Eagles jersey, screams of support came from the bal- cony of the historic venue from a gaggle of uniformed firefighters representing both the FDNY and the West Kelowna Rescue fire hall.

"Way to go Danny!," they screamed, prompting Watkins to offer his buddies, both old and new, a salute and a grin.

"I knew the guys were going to be here, but this is unreal," Watkins said. "I knew the boys were going to be here but I thought there was going to be a riot up there."

Watkins joins offensive lineman Tony Mandarich (second overall, Green Bay, 1989), running back Tim Biakabutuka (eighth overall, Carolina, 1996) and offensive lineman Mike Schad (23rd overall, Los Angeles Rams, 1896) as the only Canadians to be picked in the first round.

In the minutes after he had stepped off the podium, the reality of the moment had still not sunk in.

"This has all been an unbelievable experience," Watkins said. "I mean, I didn't growing up watching the NFL draft or football on weekends. I watched hockey. I played hockey.

"In hockey, you have to be ready for the big hits. That's what I like about football. There's always a guy six inches from your face to hit."

A life-long Canucks fan, he has bad news for Vancouver.

"Sorry, Vancouver, but I'm a Flyers backer now," he laughed, adding that he used to watch Eric Lindros when he played for Philly.

Last year, Watkins was a first-round pick of the B.C. Lions, who retain his CFL rights. Right now, however, playing in his home province is the furthest thing from his mind.

"I was just going to spend the (draft) day at a ranch in the woods with some family friends and firefighters," he said. "Then I got invited here. And next thing you know, I'm an Eagle."


Photos