"Where I came from, there was a lot of drugs, stealing, shootings, violence -- stuff like that. I just wanted to get away from there," he said on Monday afternoon at the West End Zone.
Thanks to a close support group that includes his parents, uncles and coaches at South Fort Meyers High School, Watkins stayed busy, remained humble and always had an eye on what was in store for the future.
Even the folks caught up in the drugs, stealing, shooting and violence kept it away from him.
"They always kept me from [being] around it," he said. "I had never been around it, like that... people that were doing it were like, 'Stay humble. Don't get caught up in all this stuff, like that.' They just never really did it around me. They'd have to go somewhere else if they were doing it."
Watkins maintained a steady routine before he could get away.
"I just stayed busy. I basically lived at that school. It was always football, class. When I would get home, it'd be 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I'd just take a shower, eat and go to sleep, most of the time," he said.
Rarely was he on the streets.
"We'd go out and play football, go run around, run routes at the field. I never really stayed in the neighborhood there," Watkins said.
Clemson's appeal, of course, was too much to pass up.
Former Tiger offensive line coach Brad Scott first scouted Watkins in the spring before his sophomore year.
It wasn't long after that when Watkins decided he would attend Clemson. The former Scout.com five-star wide receiver said his mind was set on Clemson when he was a sophomore at South Fort Myers.
"I just never wanted to choose early. I wanted to make the right decision, so I held it off for a while," he said.
His first visit to Clemson, a stay at the Dabo Swinney Football Camp in June of 2010, sealed the deal.
"When I came here, it was nice, quiet. Everybody was friendly. Everybody said hey," Watkins said.
The contrast to what was back home played a big part in the appeal.
"I just like this place because it's hard to get in trouble," he said. You've got to go find trouble or do something very stupid to get in trouble. That's why I like it. There's not too much going on. All the people around you are Clemson fans. It is like family."
Watkins, who has 38 catches for 623 yards and six touchdowns this season, has been embraced.
The feeling is mutual.
And it has been -- at least on his part -- for a while.
"I looked at other [schools as a recruit]," Watkins said. "But I was already stuck on Clemson, no matter what."
Watkins fell for Clemson early
CUTigers.com Top Stories
TIGERS REMAIN #3 IN BOTH POLLSWith Ohio State losing and Michigan jumping to #2, idle Clemson sits at #3 in both of Sunday's polls.
CUTigers.comYesterday at 10:59 AM
GRADES AND ANALYSIS: NC State#3 Clemson committed 4 turnovers, including 3 in the red zone and a pick-six, in its 24-17 overtime win over NC State in Death Valley.
CUTigers.comThursday at 2:52 PM
Clemson Basketball Media DayWatch Head Coach Brad Brownell and his assistant coaches discuss the upcoming basketball season at Clemson Media Day!
CUTigers.comThursday at 1:30 PM
PHOTO GALLERY: #3 Clemson vs NC StateEnjoy these images from Clemson's thrilling overtime victory versus NC State in Death Valley, courtesy of CUTigers Photographer John Bolton!
CUTigers.comThursday at 11:12 AM
College coaches who could get hired awayWhy these highly sought college football coaches would leave (and why they could stay)
ScoutThursday at 10:00 AM