Some die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans will argue offensive lineman Danny Watkins was a complete bust.
After all, the 6’3″, 310-lb. Watkins hardly made any inroads during his two-year career in the City of Brotherly Love.
However, Watkins, the 23rd overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft, has an interesting story.
The burly Canadian had always wanted to become a fireman since his childhood days in Kelonwa, British Columbia.
That passion apparently never wavered during his time on the gridiron.
Watkins walked away from professional football before he turned thirty years old in 2014. He traded his cleats for a fireman’s helmet and axe.
Although Danny Watkins earned more than $6 million as an NFL player, he gained something more valuable in return: peace of mind from chasing his dream.
Danny William Watkins was born in Kelonwa, BC on November 6, 1984.
Watkins played a bit of hockey and rugby during his formative years in Canada, per SI.com’s Emily Kaplan.
However, unlike most pro football players, Watkins’ heart wasn’t into sports even at an early age.
Danny Watkins had always wanted to become a firefighter.
Watkins had been talking incessantly about his desire to put out fires since he was a child in British Columbia.
When he was sixteen years old, he mustered enough courage to knock on the door of the West Kelonwa Fire and Rescue Squad and seek employment as a firefighter.
Schnitzler, the fire chief, liked Watkins’ enthusiasm and imposing six-foot frame. He reached out to his parents to make sure they allowed him to become a junior firefighter.
While Watkins made a good first impression, Schnitzler still had some reservations: he feared he might be some regular teenager who might eventually slack off down the line.
Schnitzler couldn’t have been more wrong.
Watkins reported for work with a smile, played cards with the older firefighters, inspected firefighting equipment, and washed down the fire engine until it shined brightly.
When Watkins did actual firefighting, he rose to the occasion.
On one occasion, he lifted a 250-lb. man during a medical emergency. Watkins also removed a truck’s loosened hood so a fellow firefighter could work on the battery, per SI.com.
After Watkins graduated from Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary School, he worked for Schnitzler in a part-time capacity.
The thought of never working as a full-time firefighter lingered in Watkins’ mind.
He believed the only way he could pursue his lifelong dream was to get a bachelor’s degree in fire science.
Watkins did his due diligence and researched the school that offered the best fire science program.
His search turned up Butte College in Northern California.
Danny Watkins would go south of the Canadian border to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a fireman.
Unknown to him, America’s Game would intervene in ways he never expected.
College Days With The Baylor Bears
Danny Watkins had no inkling to play football when he became a fire sciences major at Butte College in 2006.
Besides, he was a twenty-two-year-old freshman that year. Getting a late start on football seemed preposterous at that point.
However, the campus was abuzz with football the moment Danny Watkins set foot on it.
When Watkins’ classmates saw his massive 6’3″, 310-lb. frame, they suggested he go out for football.
Butte Roadrunners head football coach Jeff Jordan spoke with Watkins in his office.
Jordan told the 22-year-old freshman that playing football could help him enroll at a four-year university some time in the future.
Watkins signed a waiver right there and then. Before long, he began showing up for two-a-days for the Roadrunners.
Watkins and offensive line coach Rob Snelling spent time at the latter’s house eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes while watching Division I football, per Kaplan.
The Roadrunners’ new protege also told Snelling about his desire to become a full-time firefighter.
Watkins became engrossed with America’s Game the first time he watched all four quarters of it at Snelling’s residence.
He picked up on the game’s rudiments so quickly he became the Roadrunners’ starting right guard when the season kicked off.
Watkins’ impressive progress prompted his coaches to send tapes to big-name college football programs during his sophomore season at Butte College.
Next thing Watkins knew, fifty schools wanted to recruit him.
Danny Watkins chose Baylor University in Waco, TX because of the warm weather and campus atmosphere, per SI.com.
Watkins fit seamlessly in Baylor Bears head football coach Art Briles’ system. He replaced Jason Smith, who had declared for the 2009 NFL Draft.
Watkins made a good account of himself in his first taste of Division I football.
He held off feared Texas A&M Aggies pass rusher Von Miller late in the season. The latter failed to record a sack or tackle for loss against the Bears.
Watkins was as ferocious on the gridiron as he was gentle off it.
His friends and teammates at Butte College and Baylor loved his sunny disposition and sense of humor.
Watkins, who weighed more than 300 pounds, rode a motorized scooter during his college football days. He also had two golden retrievers named Tower and Tank.
He also made no secret of his desire to go to Disneyland if Baylor won a bowl game in 2010.
Unfortunately, the 7-6 Bears lost to the Illinois Fighting Illini in the 2010 Texas Bowl in lopsided fashion, 38-14.
Despite the loss, Danny Watkins earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors in 2010.
Watkins also received an invite to play in the Senior Bowl. NFL scouts were also paying serious attention to him.
Watkins, who had no desire to play professional football as a youngster growing up in Canada, now realized he could earn millions playing in the National Football League.
Danny Watkins eventually embarked on a short pro football career. However, he could never shake off his lifelong ambition to become a professional firefighter.
Pro Football Career
The Philadelphia Eagles made Danny Watkins the 23rd overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Canadian Football League’s (CFL) British Columbia Lions made Watkins the fourth overall selection of that particular draft a year earlier.
Ironically, Watkins planned on turning down his invitation to the 2011 NFL Draft, per Kaplan.
Watkins and some of his old firefighting buddies visited the New York Fire Department and checked out Ground Zero instead.
“I think we were more excited for the draft than he was,” Schnitzler, his fire chief at West Kelonwa, told SI.com three years later. “He was excited for the fire-related stuff.”
When Watkins entered the NFL Draft in 2011, he was already twenty-six years old.
He also proved he had the brains to play professional football.
He scored 40 on the 50-item Wonderlic intelligence test. Offensive linemen typically garner a score in the low 20s, per Kaplan.
Ironically, Watkins had some issues grasping the nuances of the pro game.
Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd reached out to Watkins during his rookie season in 2011.
Mudd went over some positioning drills with him. He asked Watkins if he understood the points he tried to make.
Mudd had to repeat the positioning angles he wanted Watkins to master at least a dozen times before he eventually understood.
Danny Watkins put his firefighting experience to good use before he played his first NFL down.
Watkins came to Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson’s rescue after a seizure made him collapse during a scrimmage on August 3, 2011.
Watkins helped the team’s medical staff when they attended to Patterson.
“You see something like that and you automatically want to help the guy,” Watkins told Firehouse.com. “You want to help him even more because he’s your teammate.”
Watkins finally cracked the Eagles’ starting lineup in Week 5 of the 2011 NFL season.
Unfortunately, he looked lost on the gridiron the moment he played his first down in the National Football League.
Once the 2011 NFL campaign wrapped up, Mudd asked his offensive linemen to write a self-assessment.
To his astonishment, Mudd told SI.com three years later Watkins’ assessment “approached the quality you’d find in a master’s thesis.”
Eagles offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis also asked Mudd to tone down his hard-nosed approach on Watkins, who was already breaking down.
Watkins soon discovered the Eagles’ locker room culture was completely different from the ones he was accustomed to at Butte College and Baylor.
Watkins savored the family atmosphere with the Roadrunners and Bears.
When he became a pro football player, the harsher culture eventually wore him down emotionally. He had difficulties meeting the Eagles’ relentless demands.
The Danny Watkins who wore Eagles Green and White was a far cry from the giddy big man on campus he was just a few years ago at Baylor.
According to Kaplan, Watkins lived a reclusive life when he turned pro. He became aloof and rarely spent time with his Eagles teammates off the gridiron.
While they spent their off days at Philadelphia’s training facility, Watkins checked out the local firehouses.
Watkins’ disenchantment clearly showed in the film room: Kelce, Mathis, Todd Herremans, and the other Philly offensive linemen always said yes when Mudd asked them if they watched film of the previous game.
Watkins was the lone exception. He told Mudd he hadn’t watched film every single week.
“Never have I heard something so ridiculous,” Mudd, who had been coaching for forty-five years at the time of the 2012 NFL season, told Kaplan. “Not in my entire NFL career.”
It didn’t take long for Watkins to blow his cover.
People from the Eagles organization saw Watkins donning a Philadelphia Fire Department gear on the eleven o’clock news.
Watkins explained it was all part of charity work for All Hands Working he had been doing at the time.
It turned out Watkins founded the charity with a Philadelphia fireman named Joe Gordon.
They met shortly after Watkins arrived in the city as an Eagles rookie and began scouring the local firehouses.
However, Eagles brass didn’t buy his alibi.
Watkins’ poor play on the field, reclusiveness, unwillingness to watch film, and purchase of a fire engine started to add up.
The Eagles suspected Watkins began pursuing his true passion as a firefighter behind their backs.
On the plus side, money never got to Watkins’ head when he played in the National Football League.
When he bought a house in Philadelphia, he asked some of his friends from West Kelonwa to help him renovate it.
One of Watkins’ best friends, Lionel Bateman, noticed the cheap flooring Watkins purchased from Home Depot.
It confirmed Bateman’s suspicions all along.
“He’s not a material guy,” Bateman told Kaplan in 2014. “The fame and the fortune of the NFL meant nothing to him. All he wanted was a simple house and to do what he loves.”
The Eagles averaged just six wins per season during Danny Watkins’ two-year tenure from 2011 to 2012.
Consequently, the team made wholesale changes to its coaching staff prior to the 2013 NFL season.
Head coach Andy Reid and Mudd departed Philadelphia to make room for new Eagles boss Chip Kelly and his staff.
Mudd left Philly regretting not developing Watkins’ full potential on the gridiron.
“I coached many players over many years, and not reaching Danny Watkins was my biggest failure,” Mudd told SI.com. “He had so much talent, so much potential, and I failed.”
Philadelphia eventually released Danny Watkins on August 31, 2013.
Watkins still had a lifeline after the Eagles waived him.
The Miami Dolphins signed him to a one-year deal just four days later.
Watkins spent the 2013 NFL season saddled on the Dolphins’ bench. That was the year Miami was embroiled in a hazing scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
Danny Watkins walked away from professional football following the 2013 NFL campaign.
Watkins didn’t file retirement papers or make any official announcement.
His agent, Joe Panos, told Kaplan doing so would’ve garnered unnecessary attention.
Kaplan had difficulties reaching out to Watkins following his last season in professional football.
Fortunately, he agreed to do a brief phone interview with SI.com in the winter of 2014.
Watkins confirmed he never moonlit as a firefighter during his playing days with the Eagles.
Mudd and the rest of the coaches asked him about Watkins’ priorities back then. However, he insisted to Kaplan he wanted to make the Eagles situation work.
Watkins stressed his ankle injury while he was with the Eagles in 2012 and the hazing scandal with the Dolphins a year later made him realize professional football isn’t for him.
Watkins’ disenchantment with the gridiron coincided with his rekindled passion for firefighting.
“I re-evaluated how things were going, and I knew I was ready to be a fireman again,” he told Kaplan. “I missed it so much.”
Danny Watkins, who earned more than $6 million in the NFL, left the football field behind and eventually followed his heart.
Danny Watkins and his wife Deanna currently reside in the Fort Worth, TX area.
Watkins chased his childhood dream and became a fireman in Frisco, TX which is just half an hour north of Dallas.
According to The Dallas Morning News‘ Brandon George, Watkins became the Frisco Fire Department’s Rookie of the Year in 2015.
— Tim H. Nelson (@Vote_For_Tim) February 13, 2016
He became the 150th emergency responder to receive the US&R Rescue Specialist Certificate from Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) in 2018.
Watkins represented the Texas A&M Taskforce 1 that offered relief and rescue operations to victims of Hurricane Ida in Houma, LA in 2018.
Watkins and his team did damage assessments and scoured the area for victims trapped inside their homes.
“You got down there and it was just total devastation in parts of these communities,” he told WFAA’s Jobin Panicker in September 2018.
The Frisco Fire Department promoted Watkins to captain four years later.
Congratulations to Danny Watkins on his promotion to Captain and to Rene Rodriguez on his promotion to Lieutenant!. Well deserved! pic.twitter.com/lIIeqrz17U
— Frisco Fire Dept (@FriscoFFD) January 25, 2022
Danny Watkins’ favorite food is a Canadian dish called poutine. It’s a combination of French fries and cheese curd smothered in gravy.