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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Nick Watkins overcomes adversity to have impact for Irish

When Nick Watkins stepped onto the practice field his junior season, he had hopes of earning a starting position in the secondary for the Irish. But eight practices into the spring football season, Watkins snapped his arm, and was rushed to the hospital where surgery was performed that same day to insert plates and screws, casting a doubt over the coming season.

Irish senior safety Nick Watkins shrugs off a blocker during Notre Dame's 52-17 win over Miami (OH) on Sept. 30.
Irish senior corner Nick Watkins shrugs off a blocker during Notre Dame's 52-17 win over Miami (OH) on Sept. 30.

The corner eyed a return to the field during the summer, but his arm stopped healing. After a stem bone marrow treatment, Watkins and coach Kelly were hopeful he would return for the Michigan State game that season, but that never happened. Additional plates and screws were inserted into his arm, and Watkins’ arm injury forced him out for the season.

Watkins road to recover from his broken arm to his current staring position wasn’t as simple as Watkins’ had hope it would be, but he is thankful for the Notre Dame coaches and trainers that helped him get back to where he wanted to be.

“If I didn’t play football I would’ve been fine, but since I play football it didn’t feel healed enough to where I could go on the field and contribute,” Watkins said. “... It feels good to accomplish one of my goals. I feel like it’s put me one step closer to my dream of playing in the NFL.

“... The whole process was just hard and frustrating because I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to do, but credit to Coach Balis for helping me get the muscle back in my left arm even though it was panful due to the scar tissue hindering me from lifting. But we have great trainers and strength coaches that really helped me get through that.”

Watkins’ strong football pedigree drew him into the sport as a young child. His father, Bobby Watkins, played in the NFL for the Detroit Lions from 1982 to 1988, and his brother Bobby III played defensive back at Air Force.

In 2014, Watkins came to Notre Dame as a heralded recruit from DeSoto, Texas, an Under Armour All-American that held multiple offers to a number of top programs across the country. In the end, Watkins chose to continue his football career Notre Dame, especially due to the opportunities a Notre Dame education offers.

Heading into his freshman season for the Irish, Watkins wanted to help the team on the field.

“The goal I set for my self was to pretty much just get on the field,“ he said. “Nothing too crazy, just to get on the field and not just to play special teams— to play defense as well.”

In his sophomore year, Watkins earned his first start on defense for the Irish in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State on New Years Day. After a long recovery from his broken arm, Watkins is a currently a starting safety on defense. This season, Watkins has amassed 26 tackles and eight pass defenses in only 10 games this season. While on the field, the senior‘s mindset while playing in the secondary mimics a defensive checklist by defensive backs coach Todd Lyght.

“Coach Lyght always says alignment, assignment, technique and effort. So I go through that checklist throughout the play. But I also just say to myself if the ball’s thrown my way, either I catch it or it’s a pass breakup,” Watkins said.

Now in a senior leadership role, Watkins’ advice to younger players is simply to just have fun.

“I embrace [leadership] by just telling them to have fun, embrace playing the game and not to take it too seriously—because once you take it too seriously, you’re putting pressure on yourself,” Watkins said. “Just have fun with it like you’re a kid. It’s just a game.”

Watkins will graduate this winter with a degree in management consulting from Mendoza, and plans on pursuing a fifth year before ultimately starting the draft process for the NFL.

When his career does come to an end for Watkins, he wants to be known for bringing joy to people and being himself.

“I want them to remember me as the guy in the locker room who always laughed and joked around,” Watkins said. ”I don’t think there hasn’t been a day where I wasn’t smiling. I just want people to remember me as having fun and being myself.”

As Watkins’ career at Notre Dame winds down, he wants to thank everyone who has encouraged and helped him throughout difficulties in his Notre Dame career.

“I want to thank Coach Kelly for giving me the opportunity to come up here and play Notre Dame football by offering me a scholarship. I just want to thank him for believing in me throughout my whole career here, throughout all the ups and downs. I want to also thank my teammates for making every day fun and the locker room a hilarious experience.”