When Taylor Watkins was a sophomore, the East Valley football team turned to him in its search for a quarterback to help right a sinking ship and save a season rapidly going nowhere. He responded by sparking the Knights to a stellar run that came just short of reaching the state championship game.
As the freshly graduated three-sport standout heads off to play college football, he’s hoping he has more of that magic tucked away to share with a program that hasn’t broken a huddle in the better part of four decades.
Watkins is part of a freshman class that will form the nucleus for the College of Idaho football team that will return to the field in 2014. They’ll play under head coach Mike Moroski, the longtime offensive coordinator at the University of California-Davis and a former NFL quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Oilers and San Francisco 49ers, where he served as Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana’s backup under Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh.
“Of course, my dream was to play Division I college football, but that wasn’t going to happen,” Watkins said. “I’d heard from some Big Sky Conference schools – Eastern Washington and Idaho State mostly – and I thought very seriously about Carroll College. But my mom read about College of Idaho on the Internet, and it sounded interesting.”
At the time Watkins and his mother, Deanna, were investigating the resurrected program, the Coyotes had no head coach and, therefore, no one to recruit players. Interested students were urged to contact the school’s athletics director and, in essence, ask to be recruited.
A recruiting visit to the Caldwell campus furthered Watkins’ interest. Recruits were shown plans for the school’s new athletics facility and renovations to Simplot Stadium. When the team hired Moroski, the coach’s pedigree sealed the deal.
“I had a great conversation with him, and I liked what he wanted to do with the program and what he expected,” Watkins said. “He’s someone I can really learn from, and I’m excited about working with him.”
The plan is for this year’s freshman class to go through a collective redshirt season this fall, working with coaches and preparing each week as if there were a Saturday game. Next fall the team will be begin playing games as the only National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics program in Idaho.
Watkins has talked with the school’s baseball coach, who also recruited his services as an outfielder and first baseman.
“I want to play both sports and I think I can – at least I’m going to try to play both this coming year,” Watkins said. “Football is my priority, so if there are conflicts I may have to give up baseball.”
Watkins said his decision to make football his priority was born out of his senior season at East Valley.
The Knights were 5-0 when a knee injury sent Watkins to the sidelines. He returned to quarterback the team to a win in its season finale and forge a four-way tie for first place in the Great Northern League. Then he learned the league had opted to forgo a series of tiebreaker mini-games and that East Valley was done for the year.
“That really left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “I didn’t want my football career to end that way if there was any way I could help it.”
Wrestling, the one sport that Watkins will leave behind when he heads for Southern Idaho, has been the bedrock on which his other successes have been built.
“I definitely believe that,” he said. “I’ve been wrestling since I was about 4, and I know it’s what allowed me to be able to compete in other sports. If I’m in wrestling shape, I know I can handle any workout another sport can throw at me – football, baseball, whatever. Plus the things you learn about balance and leverage – and about patience and discipline – are very important. I know it’s helped my football career and my ability to read and react to plays.”
To emphasize his point, Watkins points to his recovery from his football injury.
“I listened to everything the trainers told me and did everything the doctor told me to do in order to be able to come back and play that last game,” he said. “It may not have been the smartest move in the world to do that, but it was important to me. I was cleared to play football. But I wasn’t cleared to wrestle and I was out for the first couple matches. Football shape isn’t wrestling shape.
“I am going to miss being in wrestling shape, but I want to keep that dedication to keeping my body in the best shape possible so that I can take advantage of this opportunity. I want to be the starting quarterback when we open the season in 2014, and I think I have a good shot at it.”