Former Canadian Firefighter Watkins drafted by Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- Danny Watkins put out fires and fired hockey pucks before playing football.

He made the right career switch.

Watkins, an offensive lineman from Baylor, was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 23rd pick of the NFL draft on Thursday night.

"I thought it was the wrong number," Watkins said of the phone call he received from the Eagles. "I was really excited."

The 26-year-old Watkins is a former firefighter who took an unconventional route to the pros. The Canadian has more experience as a firefighter (five years) than a football player (four) and played hockey and rugby in high school.

"I know it's not a glamour position, but it's a crucial position in this sport," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "This is a guy that's a tough, tough guy and he has phenomenal character on and off the field. He's a class act."

Watkins, listed at 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds, played left tackle in college, but projects as a guard in the pros. He could help an offensive line that allowed 49 sacks last season, despite the presence of Michael Vick.

"He'll bring toughness and a blue-collar attitude to the offense," Reid said. "He's very powerful in the core and in his jam. Those are hard things to teach and he has that."

Watkins didn't visit the Eagles, but met with team personnel at the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl. He's quite familiar with new offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

"I've always considered it an honor and privilege to be one of his guys," Watkins said.

Though he's much older than most rookies, the Eagles weren't scared off by Watkins' age. He'll turn 27 in November.

"His body hasn't gone through the beating-up process," Reid said. "It's a unique situation."

The defending NFC East champions entered the draft with pressing needs at cornerback as well as both lines. There was speculation they would trade up and select Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, especially as he kept slipping. Amukamara went to the New York Giants at 19.

But Reid said they weren't close to pulling the trigger on any moves this time around.

The Eagles are one of the most active teams during the draft. They traded up in the first round the last two years and have made 29 draft-day trades over the last eight years. With Watkins on the board, though, they stayed put.

"This was the guy we wanted," Reid said.

Watkins could step in and start at right guard. The Eagles used Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole there last season. He also could figure into the mix at right tackle over Winston Justice and King Dunlap.

"I'm a highly motivated person," Watkins said. "I don't think (starting) will be an issue."

Watkins was attending Butte College near Sacramento, Calif., to study fire science, when someone suggested he should try football. He landed at Baylor after his sophomore year and wound up replacing Jason Smith, the NFL's No. 2 overall pick in 2009, at left tackle and held down that spot the past two seasons. Watkins was a first-team All-Big 12 Conference performer as a senior.

Watkins started working as a volunteer firefighter at 17, getting paid per call and spending one year living in a fire hall with guys who were mostly years older. Some members of his fire department were present at Radio City Music Hall to hear his name announced as a first-round pick.

So what makes someone want to be a firefighter?

"The guys you work with," he said, "and the desire to help people."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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