The 6'2", 184 lbs. held offers from schools around the country, including Big Ten counterparts Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State–and many more–before he announced his decision to join Northwestern on Monday.
Every so often, Northwestern manages to snag a prospect that was pursued by other schools with more clout. But this time, there are many reasons to believe that Watkins' commitment is not an outlier, but rather indicates the upward trajectory of the Wildcat football program.
Fitzgerald prides himself on equating the Wildcat Way with the right way, and recruits who satisfy both the academic and character requirements of Northwestern and achieve at higher levels on the field are now coming to Northwestern in greater numbers.
After narrowing his list to five schools in March, Watkins visited Northwestern and cited the school's ability to meet his "academic needs" as a major selling point—not just a brochure bullet point.
While it might be seen more frequently as a burden than a benefit, academics can in fact play a major role in a recruit's decision, even if it doesn't have as much to do with what happens on the field.
Then again, that's not what Fitzgerald's program is about. In press conferences, we hear just as much about winning in the classroom (his words, not mine) and winning on the field. In a talk with journalism students last year on the impact of media on sports, Fitzgerald cited selling a future far beyond four or five years to recruits.
That's not to say that Northwestern will reel in five-star recruits that would normally flock to more athletically oriented universities.
Instead, Watkins' commitment proves that a crop of highly-talented and intelligent athletes exists, and if Pat Fitzgerald has his way, a decent number of them will end up in Evanston.