"It just felt right," Watkins told Badger Nation. "You can tell when you enter into a relationship if something feels right. That's certainly what it was."
The four-star Waktins – rated the No.47 wide receiver by Scout.com -was a popular recruit throughout the process. He picked up BCS offers from Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, North Carolina State, Northwestern Penn State, Purdue and West Virginia, but his relationship with Wisconsin had been the strongest throughout his sophomore and junior season.
Watkins and his family had first developed a great relationship with Joe Rudolph, who was recruiting Watkins before leaving for Pittsburgh with Paul Chryst. The relationship didn't drop when Zach Azzanni took over because of the comfort Watkins had with then-head coach Bret Bielema. Had all those coached stayed, Watkins admitted he would have "more than likely" committed to the program upwards of a year ago.
"After the coaching change, he ruled out Wisconsin 100 percent," said Heath Watkins, Dareian's father. "It just seemed like it wasn't meant to be."
Wisconsin hired Gary Andersen in December, who in turn hired Chris Beatty to coach the wide receivers. Beatty was the co-offensive coordinator at Illinois in 2012 when he first started recruiting Watkins. One of the first things Beatty did was offer Watkins in February.
Even after Watkins committed to Northwestern in early May, Beatty didn't take no for an answer.
"(Beatty) was the only coach that was close enough to Dareian to get him to listen and close enough to mom and dad that we would make the trip," said Heath.
"He always told me that I was his guy since day one," added Watkins. "We had a pretty close connection ever since. We knew he was always going to try (and recruit me) until the very last second."
The reason for that, according to Watkins, is potential and ability. His team's quarterback this past season, Watkins passed for 1,456 yards, ran for 1,287 yards and accounted for 35 touchdowns, not playing any snaps at wide receiver.
In order to stay fresh with the position, Watkins would spend time post-practice spending some time working on the position.
"I tried to practice it when I could," said Watkins. "When I go to combines that's all I do. It's a little rusty, yeah, but it's not bad."
Although Watkins was fully committed to Northwestern for six months, he started second guessing his decision on a visit to Wisconsin on Nov.16. He attended the game with his dad in support of his brother, 2015 defensive back Cario Davison, but ended up getting plenty of attention from Beatty, Andersen and other staff members on his first visit to the campus since the 2012 spring game.
"That's the crazy thing; the trip wasn't for me," said Watkins. "I got a lot of attention. I knew coach Beatty for awhile, so it wasn't like going into a whole new territory. I got to know coach Andersen pretty good, so it's not a bunch of strangers."
Watkins is the 23rd commit of Wisconsin's current class, and joins an impressive incoming group at the position with Natrell Jamerson, Chris Jones and Krenwick Sanders. UW is hoping to also add four-star wide receiver Jamil Kamara to the mix, as he lists Wisconsin as one of his top three schools and will decide in January.
"These are the guys I am going to be around for the next four, five years, so it was important to build a good relationship with them," said Watkins.
Watkins' commitment closes a difficult couple of weeks for him. He was suspended for his team's first-round playoff game, which resulted in a surprising loss, and then had his scholarship pulled by Northwestern. Many thought the two went hand-in-hand, causing Watkins a lot of unflattering, and sometimes unfounded, speculation.
"There was a lot of talk and people didn't know what's going on," said Watkins. "I ignored it and was able to get use to it after awhile. It wasn't like it was a shock to me when it happened, so I just put it in the back of my mind."
Through it all Watkins believed everything worked out for the best, ending up at the school he was meant to be at.
"That exactly what it feels like," he said. "For their first year, the coaches have done a great job. Wisconsin consistently wins. I don't have to worry about coming in my first year and it being a down year."