by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
On his second recruiting visit to Northwestern, Dareian Watkins experienced the high-energy intensity of a Pat Fitzgerald-led practice. Coaches howled in encouragement, players danced to hip-hop music in between reps and Watkins took it all in, eagerly observing a typical Wildcats spring workout on Saturday morning.
“I liked the passion the players and coaches were exerting,” Watkins, who made his second visit to Northwestern this weekend, said. “There was no messing around.”
One player in particular caught Watkins’ eye: Tony Jones. Northwestern’s junior receiver has the one quality most receivers need to be successful – speed. It’s one of the things that makes Watkins – who was last clocked at a 4.53 in the 40-yd dash – such a high priority in Northwestern’s 2014 recruiting plans.
Besides attending practice, Watkins was able to sit down with coaches and academic staffers. He enjoyed touring campus and learning more about the school’s athletic and academic programs, but his favorite part of the visit was a simple but genuine take on the Wildcats’ team chemistry.
Throughout his time talking and socializing with teammates, Watkins noticed something about the way players treated one another. He mentioned sophomore walk-on receiver Cermak Bland as an example of a player who, despite limited playing experience and a small chance of breaking into more playing time this season, was treated as an equal amongst other players. It was this egalitarian team ethos that, above all else, left a strong impression on Watkins.
“Everybody was treated the same,” he said. “They have so much respect for each other. It was nice to see.”
It is not difficult to see why more than 15 schools have already offered Watkins. He stands 6’2’’, 192 pounds, brings excellent straight-line speed and open-field agility, offers an intuitive understanding of the game as a part-time high school quarterback, and a focused, dedicated, hardworking attitude to tie it all together.
Taking a liking to Watkins is one thing. Securing his allegiance is more like a lottery with a hoard of ambitious competitors. A few weeks before making his first visit, all the way back in September, Northwestern offered Watkins. He now holds offers from over 19 Division I schools, but has already narrowed down his list to a top five: Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois and Louisville.
With a conjectural decision date set for late spring/early summer, Watkins has already visited all his top five schools more than once, Louisville the lone exception. He gave no indication as to which way he may be leaning at this stage, but he did not rule out a third visit to Northwestern, time and travel constraints permitting.
“I’ll probably end up making up another trip but I don’t know,” he said.
Even if the third visit doesn’t come to pass, Northwestern has already made its mark on Watkins’ heated recruitment.