Hockey is the national pastime in Canada and Danny Watkins surely wanted to one day lace up the skates and battle for Lord Stanley's Cup. But as a 270-pound self-described defensive goon in the 12th grade, the National Hockey League was not in his future.
However, Watkins' days spent playing hockey as a kid would plant the seed for the athleticism needed to play on the offensive line. Watkins never played football - he did, however, play rugby - until he was 22 years old while attending Butte College in Oroville, Cal. and was approached by the school's football coach.
Thrown into the fire, figuratively since he was a real-life firefighter, Watkins practiced for just two weeks before playing in his first-ever game.
"I'm sure there were a few times the quarterback was scrambling," Watkins recalled.
But the game would come very easy to Watkins. The balance, leg strength and lateral mobility needed to skate were very similar to the ability to kick slide and anchor in football. As a defenseman in hockey, Watkins could feel the weight of a forward change against him and still keep his balance. That's no different than a defensive end bullrushing, spinning or trying any assortment of moves to get to the quarterback and the offensive lineman must hold his ground.
Just four years after playing football for the first time, Watkins is a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. The 26-year-old's unorthodox road to the NFL blessed him with life experiences which will serve him well in his transition to the NFL.
"I've been in the real world," Watkins said. "This is a business, this is a job, and I'm going to approach it like that and hope to do well in it."
When the Eagles play in Seattle this season, you can certainly count on his father, Todd, making the trek from British Columbia. Even though Todd was cynical at first that football would be his son's avenue to success, the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Todd, you see, makes a living operating a construction grader. It's only fitting that Danny would follow in his father's footsteps and become a road grader himself.
Todd always knew that Danny was a tough kid seeing him on the ice playing hockey as a kid, but away from the ice - or now the field - the switch goes off. Todd compares Danny to the guard dog who is loving and takes care of the kids, but once it's dark he'll bark at anything that causes a stir.
And it should only be fitting that Danny was drafted to play in a blue-collar town like Philadelphia. It's Watkins' work ethic that allowed him to develop into a premier NFL prospect despite picking up the game later in life.
Danny and Todd arrived in Philadelphia this afternoon and visited a local fire station where Danny felt like he was a part of the crew for many years. They came to the NovaCare Complex where Danny met with general manager Howie Roseman, head coach Andy Reid, offensive line coach Howard Mudd and quarterback Michael Vick among others. Watkins and Vick talked about taking care of business and Watkins wants to do everything he can to make an immediate impact.
"I'm going to bring my work boots and hard hat and come in and try to contribute right away," Watkins said.
It's been a fortuitous road to the NFL for Danny Watkins. Believe it or not, though, the signs have been there all along.