Monday, December 12, 2011
Eagles Still in Flight!
To say that the Philadelphia Eagles began this season with high expectations would be an understatement. They were supposed to “cake walk” their way to the Super Bowl”. Along the way, wheels fell off, here and there. Injuries, dropped passes, missed assignments, dumb penalties: they all took their toll as the team crashed to earth after an impressive start.
They went into Miami last weekend with no pretentions. As is most often the case, the fortunes of the team lay squarely on the shoulders of their quarterback, Michael Vick. He had been nursing broken ribs (“upper body injury”), and had not played for almost a month.
The troops rallied and managed to beat the Dolphins 26-10. Vick relied on his offensive line to protect him throughout the day. They are responsible for keeping Dolphin defenders at bay, and for opening holes for Eagle running backs to head upfield. After the game, Vick gave the big boys credit: “The line settled in and protected me well”.
One of those giants on the line is a rookie who has come a long way to wear #63 as a starting guard for the Eagles. Danny Watkins hails from Kelowna, British Columbia, and is a poster boy for late bloomers. He did not start playing football until he was twenty-two years old!
Following his high school days at Mount Boucherie Secondary School, he headed south to attend a Butte College, a Junior College in Oroville, California. But his first love was hockey, pure and simple. “I was a true Canadian hockey kid.” In Grade 12 he realized that hockey might not be part of his future, because at that time, he weighed 270 pounds, and was well over six feet tall.
As he began to look at the football option, he realized there were some similar aspects to the game, especially for hockey defencemen and pulling guards. “The way you put your feet in the run game is similar to skating. Obviously, moving backwards in hockey was very natural to me and in pass protection. A lot has been able to carry over to my benefit.”
Watkins left Butte to attend Baylor, and played 25 games, earning “All-Big 12 honours as a senior in 2010”. The Eagles liked what he was doing, and drafted him in the first round, 23rd overall.
In 1986, another Canadian broke into the ranks of the NFL named Mike Schad. He was also drafted in the first round, at the 23rd spot, by the Los Angeles Rams. Both players were also selected in the first round of the Canadian Football League; however, both chose to sign contracts south of the border. All things considered, Danny Watkins has 7.9 million reasons why he signed to play in Philly for four years. Schad also made good money playing in the States, and has remained in the Philadelphia area.
I spoke with Mike yesterday. He was thrilled with the progress that Watkins has made this year. “It is never easy for a rookie to step into a starting role in the NFL. Rookies rely on experienced guys to show them the ropes. In his case, he also has a rookie centre on the line with him, and a couple of other guys who have changed positions. The Eagles also have a new offensive line coach as well. They have not had a lot of time to develop the chemistry required to work together as a unit.”
Mike had difficulty talking to me on the phone as he was struggling with Colt, his three year old son. Colt wanted to put more stickers in the sticker book. The Schads also have a six year old girl, who was busy at the time selecting goodies from Christmas catalogues.
Schad returns to Canada several times a year to visit his parents in Belleville, to check on his brother in Ottawa, and to help keep the duck population under control in the County. He finished his career with the CFL team in Ottawa, then coached at Temple in Philadelphia. He now keeps busy in the finance world.
Always a keen observer of the game, he was thrilled with the McMaster win at the Vanier Cup. “I watched the game in Ottawa.” He was also impressed with the winning season of the Moira Trojans, his high school alma mater. The football field at Moira is the Mike Schad Field.
There is a tiny crack in the window of opportunity for the Eagles to make the playoffs. Likely far too many “ifs”. Another season of promise……
James Hurst-December 13, 2011