Watkins ready to light NFL’s fire — and put it out

INDIANAPOLIS — The team that drafts Danny Watkins will receive an offensive tackle with the potential to put out fires along the line of scrimmage — and in the locker room.

That’s because in a previous life — before Baylor and the NFL came calling — Watkins was a firefighter. Before that, he was a hockey and rugby enthusiast in his native Kelowna, British Columbia.

The well-traveled Watkins started working as a volunteer fireman at 17, being paid per call and spending one year living in a fire hall with guys who were mostly years older.

Watkins took an unconventional route to college, much less the NFL. He moved on to Butte College near Sacramento, Calif., to study fire science — the same school Packers QB Aaron Rodgers went for a spell — when someone suggested the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder should give football a try.

Watkins landed at Baylor after his sophomore year and wound up replacing Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall draft pick by the Rams in 2009, at left tackle and holding down that spot the past two seasons. Watkins was a first-team All-Big 12 Conference selection as a senior.

Watkins was asked Thursday if his firefighting past has helped him pursue his NFL dream.

“I think a lot of the stuff that I learned at the firehouse has carried over to this, just the mental and physical aspects of it,” Watkins said. “I went in there very young, I was 17 years old and had the opportunity to work with a great bunch of individuals. They kind of took me under their wing and matured me and molded me into what they wanted. I feel that this helped me in the football transition.”

Watkins has come a long way from home — and gained some bulk since then. He already has been selected by the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions, but it seems unlikely he’ll be spending his autumns in Canada.

Marc Sessler

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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