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(Robert Rogers/Copyright © 2010 Baylor University - All Rights Reserved)
(Robert Rogers/Copyright © 2010 Baylor University - All Rights Reserved)

Canadian draft prospect gets presidential approval Add to ...

Danny Watkins has met with Bengals and Bears, Chargers and Steelers, Rams and Ravens. He's talked to head scouts, player personnel directors, general managers and even a president.

Not the president of an NFL team, mind you, but a guy who used to reside in Washington and work out of the Oval Office. It turns out former U.S. president George W. Bush is not only a Baylor University football fan; he's keenly aware of Watkins's rise from Kelowna fire fighter to potential first-round pick in Thursday's NFL draft.

The two men met last Sunday at a Texas Rangers baseball game in Arlington. Watkins and his girlfriend were in the stands when they were invited to a private suite and introduced to the 43rd U.S. president.

"He was smiling and said it was nice to meet me. I couldn't believe it. He knew my name," Watkins said. "I really hated to do it but I asked, 'Can I get a picture with you?' "

Most everyone focusing on this week's NFL draft has become familiar with Watkins and his amazing story; how he was working as a fireman in B.C. and didn't take up football until he was 22, and how, in just four years, he has become a big man in demand.

The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder has had private workouts with more than a dozen NFL teams. While he played offensive tackle at Baylor, he switched to guard at the 2011 Senior Bowl and more than held his ground against some of the best defensive linemen in America.

Where that puts him in the draft is the grand unknown. Some experts have predicted he'll go 25th overall to the Seattle Seahawks. Others have pegged him at 29th (Chicago Bears) or 31st (Pittsburgh Steelers). Peter King of Sports Illustrated has Watkins being selected as high as 23rd by the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 1989, Tony Mandarich of Oakville, Ont., was taken second overall - the highest a Canadian has ever been drafted by the NFL.

"They're all playing it very close to the vest," Watkins said of the interest he's drawn from NFL suitors. "I'm not expecting to go in the first round. It's funny but, to me, April 28 was just another day before this year."

Watkins has impressed NFL scouts with his technique and footwork, especially when it comes to pass blocking. It's been speculated his ability to move backward and maintain good balance comes from his hockey background (he was a defenceman).

"It has certainly been a meteoric and unexpected rise for Watkins," Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com assessed. "Baylor isn't necessarily viewed by fans as a hotbed for NFL talent but Watkins took over for the No. 2-overall pick Jason Smith (St. Louis Rams) in 2009, and quickly demonstrated he had legitimate talent."

That helped get Watkins noticed. What he proved over two seasons as a Baylor starter was that he could be smart and aggressive and that his lack of football experience at 26 was actually a benefit since there were fewer years of wear and tear on his body.

That has the NFL excited about his future.

As for Watkins, he has only one lament: the photo he had taken with Bush.

"It's not a good picture. I'm hoping I can call him back and get another one taken."

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