JOBS for AMERICA'S GRADUATES

Dontel Watkins hopes to fulfill NFL dreams with Tennessee Titans

Dontel Watkins, a former Jobs for Tennessee Graduates' student at Antioch High School and graduate of the Class of 2008, signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans.  Dontel, like many other JTG graduates, will be striving against heavy odds to reach his goals but he will have a lot of hometown supporters rooting for him.  He is a determined young man.

Dontel Watkins hopes to fulfill NFL dreams with Tennessee Titans - Written by Jim Wyatt The Tennessean May 1, 2013:

Dontel Watkins went from Antioch High to the Titans, but his path to the NFL was hardly a straight shot.

Now that he’s made it, his goal is to stick around. And don’t tell him he’s a long shot.

Watkins, a receiver who finished his college career at Murray State, agreed to a free-agent deal with the Titans after being passed over in the NFL Draft. He’ll join the rest of the team’s rookie class at an orientation next week before beginning offseason work with the team, where he’ll practice with some of the players he idolized as a kid.

“It’s like a dream come true,’’ Watkins said. “Since I’ve been little I wanted to play pro, and now to be getting a shot, and to have it be in my hometown with the Titans, it really is like a dream for me and my family.

“But I’m not satisfied — I want to make the team. The Titans are giving me an opportunity. They let me in. Now that I’ve got my foot in the door, it is all about what I can do, and I want to show them they didn’t make a mistake.”

Watkins, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, has his work cut out for him.

He’ll join a crowded position that also includes former Tennessee Vols receiver Justin Hunter, the team’s second-round pick. The Titans also have veterans Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kevin Walter and Damian Williams on the roster, along with Kendall Wright, the team’s first round pick from a year ago. Lavelle Hawkins, Marc Mariani and Michael Preston also will be in the fight, not to mention the other undrafted free agent receivers set to join the Titans.

Agent Josh Wright gave Watkins the same message he gives to all his undrafted free agents.

“I tell guys: It’s not where you start, it’s where you are the first weekend of September,’’ Wright said. “Dontel is not competing with the first-day picks for a job, and some of the established veterans. They all have a job.

“In year one, he’s competing with the other undrafted free agents and the later-round picks, and the guys on the practice squad last year. (Dontel) shouldn’t get stressed out about the guys at the top of the depth chart. He just needs to work hard and let the results take care of themselves.”

The Titans have had their share of undrafted rookie success stories over the years, from receiver Drew Bennett to fullback Ahmard Hall to quarterback Billy Volek to running back John Simon.

Can Watkins be the next? He hopes so, and he’ll have family and friends in Nashville pulling for him.

Watkins grew up in Nashville and spent his first two years of high school at Overton, where he played quarterback. He played his final two years at Antioch, where he was moved to receiver.

Watkins got the attention of some big-time schools as a senior, but he couldn’t qualify academically. So we went to Butler Community College in Kansas, where he was a first-team All-Jayhawk Conference performer as a freshman as a kickoff returner and honorable mention as a receiver while averaging 23.1 yards a catch and 36.8 yards a return.

From there he went to Utah State, where he had success. Watkins led the Aggies with 42 catches for 492 yards in 2010. Watkins eventually transferred to Murray State in January 2012 and finished his career at the school last fall. In 2012, he caught 39 passes for 561 yards and five touchdowns. He then ran a 4.47 at his Pro Day.

It was enough to get him noticed by the Titans, who invited him to Baptist Sports Park before the draft.

The team offered him a contract 45 minutes after the draft ended on Saturday. At least one other NFL team was interested in Watkins as a cornerback, his agent said.

“Dontel is a very determined young man,’’ said Mike Woodward, who coached Watkins at Antioch. “He’s not going to back down. He’s going to be an under-the-radar guy when he comes in, but he is a big guy and he’s made plays wherever he’s been.”

Watkins admits he grew up a Cowboys fan because of his grandfather’s influence, but cheered for the hometown team because of his favorite players, guys such as quarterback Vince Young and running back Chris Johnson.

Over the years, he’s been to a handful of games at LP Field. If all goes well this offseason, he should get a chance to put on a Titans uniform and play in the preseason. But he’d like to stick around longer than that.

“Nothing I have been through has been easy. Now I know I am going to be joining the cream of the crop, the best of the best, in the NFL,’’ he said. “But I know I can play with them. And now I have to show I can play with these guys.

“The Titans have a bunch of good receivers already, so I have to go in and work hard and show my abilities. I know I am going to have to show what I can do on special teams, and I like that. I am going to work hard and by the end of the preseason, I hope I can make the roster.”