Talented football recruits are not a rarity. But seldom does a young player come around who has overcome major adversity, yet possesses a good attitude and phenomenal athletic ability. Dareian Watkins is that special young man.
He recently joined Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. founder and publisher of the Spartan Nation family of services on Spartan Nation Radio. Football aside, Watkins is truly an amazing human being.
Though many Spartan fans may not have heard of Dareian Watkins, it would be wise to remember the name of this potential future Spartan. A junior at Galion High School in Ohio, Watkins’ notoriety has spread across the country, as he has become a well-known figure to college coaches.
His blazing-fast speed lingers in the mind of many a man, as Watkins torches defender after defender on the football field, gracefully managing to elude every attempt to be tackled. Over 30 schools have shown interest in the young speedster, and 25 of those programs have offered him a scholarship. Watkins has the chance to choose which top-notch, Division I academic institution he would like to attend for free. Not so long ago, such an opportunity would have been a pipe dream for Watkins.
Watkins did not have a typical childhood. A victim of abuse and neglect, Dareian did not grow up in the kind of caring home many are blessed to enjoy. Around the age of seven, he spent some nights wandering the streets and sleeping in alleys. A neighbor was the first to call child protective services after seeing Dareian eat out of a trashcan.
The next call came from a teacher who noticed cigarette burn marks on young Dareian’s leg. Right before he turned nine, Dareian was rescued and placed into foster care.
Dareian spent the next two-and-a-half years at three different foster homes, struggling to find stability. Dareian found it when he met his own personal angels in Heath and Cheryl Watkins.
The couple had three children. When a client at Heath and Cheryl’s insurance agency suggested that the couple meet the 11-year-old, they were hesitant. Their client, who owns an adoption agency, was finally able to convince the two to meet Dareian. Once Heath and Cheryl met Dareian for dinner, the Watkins knew it was right.
That night, Heath and Cheryl told Dareian they wanted to adopt him, and Dareian’s huge grin told them his answer. Ever since Dareian has been a natural part of the Watkins family.
Health and Cheryl signed up Dareian up for a local youth football league. Dareian hated it and wanted to quit. Dareian thought that the coaches were making him run and do pushups because they didn’t like him. His new father made a pact with the sixth grader: if Dareian still didn’t like football after the first game, he could quit.
After a month of practice, the opening game of the season finally arrived. Dareian scored five touchdowns in the game and hasn’t stopped loving the game ever since.
By eighth grade, he was an honor roll student and a well-behaved young man. His prowess on the football field became more visible, too. In one game during his eighth grade year, “I had six touchdowns and all of them were [at] different positions,” Watkins remembers. “I kind of realized this is could be something I could pursue and do maybe when I get older. The varsity football coach came up to me and asked if I would think about playing on Friday night for the freshmen.”
Dareian continued his growth as a football player and as a person throughout high school. His love for the game grew as he developed into a respected young man in the Galion community. “It’s basically my life, my passion: everything I do is football,” Watkins explained. “If you go out there and let [a bad] play get to you, then you’re not going to excel the rest of the game. You just have to forget about it, and that’s what I do best.”
Dareian’s passion for the sport led him to work hard to hone his natural ability, particularly his speed. Watkins owns a 40-meter dash time of 4.3 seconds that he has twice run. Where does the blazing speed come from? “My biological mom is very, very athletic. When she was in high school, as a freshman she was the fastest girl on the track team and the best volleyball player,” Dareian explained. “I get my athleticism basically from my mom. I haven’t always had it. I’ve only been playing football since sixth grade, so ever since then, I’ve had to work on it, day in and day out.”
The hard work has paid off many times over for Dareian. He can play any position on the field besides the line positions, though Michigan State is recruiting him primarily as a wide out. But no matter where he lines up, Watkins loves to have the ball in his hands. “It’s tough to say which [position] I like more,” Dareian said. “Receiver comes natural: I go out there at receiver and I just have fun. [At] quarterback, you get the ball every play, so you have an opportunity to do something with it. I can’t really say that I favor a position more, but I like receiver just because I’m natural at it. And that to me, other than not getting the ball that often, is more fun because of the way I’m built.”
Versatility is valuable to a football program. It’s easy to see why over 30 schools have shown interest in Watkins and why he has received a whopping 20 scholarship offers. To receive such attention is great, but Dareian sees the true value of each offer: a free chance to earn a college diploma. “Not very many people get to go to the NFL,” Watkins stated. “You have to be realistic with yourself; you can’t sit there and say: ‘I want to go to the NFL, and that’s what I want to do.’ Realistically, that’s usually not going to happen. Getting that college degree will give me an opportunity, if I don’t get to go to the next level, then I can come out of college, have a good degree, go get a good job, start a family, and provide for my family. Because like I said, [to get to] the NFL, that’s tough.” Dareian also values the fact that Health and Cheryl don’t have to worry about financing college. “It’s really an overwhelming feeling to know that these coaches are basically saying they’re going to pay your way through college and your parents aren’t going to have to do it and you’re not going to have to do anything special to go to college,” Dareian said. “Knowing that burden is off the back of my parents, that’s a good feeling because it’s kind of paying them back for all they’ve done for me.”
One college that has distinguished itself from the rest for Dareian is Michigan State. Watkins recently narrowed his list of potential schools to five: MSU, Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois and Louisville. For Dareian, a number of facets of Michigan State stand out. “Beautiful campus. The coaches are amazing. I spoke with Coach Dantonio for 20 minutes during the basketball game against Nebraska. From there, we kind of bonded. Coach [Mike] Tressel’s my dude: he’s pretty cool,” Watkins told Hondo S. Carpenter Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio recently.
Though being a Spartan appeals to him, Dareian is still considering all of his options. “I’m kind of set on making a decision sometime in May,” Watkins stated. “Here in a week or two, we’re going to talk it out with my family and decide what visits we’re going to take and what schools I’m seriously considering instead of going to all these schools all across the country and spending money on schools I’m probably not going to go to.” As Dareian told Spartan Nation Radio, his visit to East Lansing is already planned.
Dareian Watkins is a special young man. Not only does he have the exceptional athletic capability, he has the head and the heart to succeed. As legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “If you’re lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he’s never going to come off the field second.” Remember the name Dareian Watkins: whether or not he wears the Green and White in college, his future looks bright.
Some young me do amazing things on the football field. Some young men have no football talent, but are great people. Watkins is a great football player, that is an even better person. No matter what school he signs with next Febrauary, it is safe to say those that get to know him will be rooting for him.
Thanks to his new family, Watkins has not taken the path of being a victim. He has made the wise choice to be a victor. Football only mirrors that amazing choice, from an amazing young man.