April 11, 2011
At some point, most boys dream of growing up to be firemen or professional football players. Few ever become either one. Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins, a former firefighter and soon-to-be NFL draft pick, is about to accomplish both — though in his case, the football part came as something of an accident.
Like all red-blooded Canadians, Watkins grew up in Kelowna, British Columbia, playing hockey, not football. At 16, he volunteered at the local fire department for school credit, mainly to get out of class. He stuck with it, and at 18 graduated to the paid-on-call program to become a full-time firefighter. At 22, his captain suggested Watkins enroll in a course in fire science at Butte Community College in California, where the new 6-foot-4, 290-pound kid on campus couldn't hide from the football coaches for long. After two years at Butte, he moved on to Baylor, replacing left tackle Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in 2009. After two years in Waco, he was voted second-team All-Big 12 by league coaches, and is widely expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick later this month.
That's how Watkins suddenly finds himself invited to New York City for the draft proceedings at the relatively ripe age of 26, and why five Canadian firefighters are coming with him, per the Toronto Sun:
Now, 10 years later, Watkins is showing his great affection for some of the West Kelowna firefighters who helped mould his personal and professional life by inviting them to be with him in New York.
"They're guys you'd never forget," Watkins said Wednesday. "I'm bringing five altogether. They're the guys who have been with me since the beginning, when I was just a young, immature kid. They've taught me a lot ... they've become very close friends. I wish I could bring a lot more of them, but I don't have a lot of money yet."
"I was pretty excited when Danny phoned me," says Wayne Schnitzler, West Kelowna's fire chief. "Everybody is pretty excited about the big event. Not many people are going to have the opportunity to sit in on an NFL draft. We're truly honoured to be part of Danny's big day."
At least he's not too humble to leave off the "yet" when he's referring to his bank account. Depending on how the NFL's ongoing labor impasse plays out, he'll be able to outfit the entire department with a fleet of gleaming new trucks by the end of the year. And if by any chance some ill-considered player protest starts to get out of hand, there are already professionals on the scene.
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