January 31, 2011
In the most recent ruminations of Yahoo! Sports' own Michael Silver, we were told the story of how Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes) was discovered by Cal coach Jeff Tedford during a recruiting trip. Tedford was actually looking at tight end Garrett Cross, and Rodgers happened to be the kid throwing lasers to Cross. One galvanic moment later, Rodgers was on his way, on a highly improbable journey to the Super Bowl and a position as one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
Silver also talked about other greats from the Chico, California area, but there's one player whose story was told at this year's Senior Bowl who should be added to that list. Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins, who wound up replacing Jason Smith(notes) at left tackle there, started his college football career at Butte - that same junior college where Rodgers was found in tiny Oroville, California.
Watkins, who was one of the stars of Senior Bowl week as he kicked inside to guard and center and showed a seriously nasty streak as a blocker, had an even stranger journey to the football big time. The 26-year-old native of Kelowna, British Columbia has only played organized football for four years; he grew up playing hockey and wound up fighting fires in Vancouver before someone in his circle of firefighting buddies suggested that he try to get on at Butte's fire prevention academy. Watkins did so in 2007, transferring to Baylor in 2009, and really impressed as a senior in 2010 with a lot of knockdowns outside. It's easy to become entranced with his story and picture Watkins as a "Rudy" type, but make no mistake -- this guy can play, and he's ready to help an NFL team.
I talked with Watkins after the first day of Senior Bowl practice, when he was just starting to establish himself on a national scale.
Could Watkins make that same trip from Butte College to the Super Bowl that Rodgers did? In one week he went from an undefined entity to one of the top interior linemen in this draft class. Considering how far he's already come, it seems that anything is possible for Watkins.
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