Jordan Watkins is a defensive tackle who plays for Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia. He shares how his successful junior season played out.
"We finished 10-2—4th in our region—and made it to the second round of playoffs after beating a No. 1 seed. I would say it was a very successful season, and I could same the same for myself.
"It was all about what I could do to help make the team better, and I was able to do that well. I made 1st -team all-state, which is good going up against some of the bigger schools from Georgia."
Watkins knows expectations will be extremely high for him next season. He has an amazing maturity for his age, realizing he has to be a leader and help carry his team to the ultimate goal for any high school athlete: a state championship.
"All-in-all, last year was a great season. But looking forward to next season, I want to take that next step and get all the way to the state championship. My biggest individual goal for next season will be being a better leader, which comes along with being a senior captain.
"Not only will the football team look up to me, but the little kids, pre-schoolers, middle schoolers, all those kids will be looking up to me as well. So, not only do I have to be a leader for my team on the field, but I have to be a good role model for all the people around me."
Illini assistant coach Chip Long has been the main Illinois recruiter on Watkins. Watkins talks about his relationship with Coach Long.
"I talk to him every month or so. And on Facebook—since he grew up in Georgia—he always asks me how the Braves are doing, and we have also been talking about the NBA Playoffs a lot. He seems like a really nice guy, and I like talking to him."
The 6'-5", 260 pound defensive end also noted the Illini staff made it clear to him that he's a top priority.
"I was talking to Coach Long the other day, and he was saying how I am the No. 1 guy they are coming after, so they are definitely going to try and come after me pretty hard."
Illinois's persistent recruitment has gotten Watkins interested in the program. He has done much research on the athletics and school and is impressed with what he's seen.
"They are playing in the Big 10, which is one of the better football conferences in the nation. I am going into broadcast journalism, and with the location Illinois is at—with Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis not too far way—there is a good chance for marketing all around.
"And from what I've read, Illinois is very balanced between its academics and athletics, which is the type of school I'm looking for."
The four-star athlete discussed some of the attributes that have gotten him such high praise.
"I think one thing I do well is not give up on the play. It used to be where, if the play was going outside; I would give up on it. But last year, if there was a play outside or on the other side of the line, I'd try to get there and make something happen, whether it's making the play or forcing the ball carrier to another tackler. Doing that, I can hopefully teach other players, and they will start to try their hardest on every play as well."
However, his game still needs improvement, and part of that has to do with an injury he suffered last season.
"One thing I need to do is use my hands more. Last year I broke my hand, so that limited how much I could use it. I still tried to use it, but I wasn't as effective as I thought I could be.
"So this spring, I worked more on using it again. I had to start trusting my hands again, knowing that if I punched with it, it wouldn't hurt. So looking forward to next season, I have to be able to use my hands and know in my head everything will be okay."
With a 3.7 GPA, Watkins is big into academics. The academic value of a school will be important to him when choosing a college.
"I will be looking to see if the school is academically strong, if it has something along the lines of broadcast journalism, if it will be challenging—but not too challenging—and also the chance to get some good networking options, so when football is done for me, I have something else to fall back on.
"But the main thing I look for is if the school has any connections with media outlets, so maybe you can get offered a job right out of college, which will be very helpful for my future outside of football."
That being said, what the football program has to offer will be very important to Watkins as well. He is looking at a couple key things.
"Most importantly, I want to win a championship, so I want to go to a place that I feel has a good chance of doing that. Also, I want football to be huge there. A program with a large support base would be great."
Watkins has already narrowed his list of schools down to 16, and Illinois is among them. The next cut will come before his senior season, where he will cut it down to five because he only gets five official visits. Watkins talked about when he plans to make the decision on which school he will attend.
"I've thought about doing it after my senior season, because it'll give me more time to use all the visits. By then I'll be 100% confident with my decision."