MADISON - Dareian Watkins was one of the feel-good players in Wisconsin’s 2014 recruiting class. An adopted child who was abuse by his biological mother, Watkins changed from a boy who once forged for food in trash cans to a four-star recruit who had the chance to immediately impact the Badgers’ young receiver corps.
That’s why the decision of Watkins to end his promising college career before it got started was such a sad ending.
As a senior at Galion (OH) high school, Watkins played quarterback and passed for 1,456 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,287 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was selected to participate in the Offense-Defense Bowl, which compiles some of the top high school players in the country, and was one of five wide receivers recruited to Wisconsin in the 2014 signing class.
None of that mattered shortly after Watkins arrived at Wisconsin, resulting in two separate trips home for a variety of reasons, the latter of which has become permanent.
“I felt that I didn't want to play anymore,” said Watkins in an exclusive interview with BadgerNation. “So I wasn't (going to) force myself to go through college football not wanting to play.”
According to Watkins, who spoke for the first time since word of his departure was made public in July, the first trip home was a result of his birth mother telling him she had cancer, a farce that was supposedly aimed at trying to motivate Watkins to want to work harder and stay motivated.
“The whole time I was down there that's all I thought about,” said Watkins. “When I left the first time, it was to go check on my mom and see if she was OK. Well I come to find out she didn't have cancer, she only said it to try and push me harder.”
Watkins was given a week by the Wisconsin coaching staff to get his affairs in order and return to the program without any repercussions. He met the deadline, but not having been enrolled in classes for a week caused more complications. Everything rolled up together became too much for Watkins.
“When I left the second and final time, I had a talk with Coach Andersen beforehand,” said Watkins. “I was just talking to him about how I felt and what I should do. I told him how I'm not sure what I want and that I really didn't feel like I fit in.”
Watkins struggled to adapt to his surrounding in part because he felt like an outsider around his new teammates. Not having a phone, Watkins tells stories about how the incoming freshmen would all go out and do stuff together and he wouldn’t be included.
“They would come back all at one time and I’d just be standing there,” said Watkins. “Part of it was my fault for not reaching out the way I should have been and staying in contact with them before we even stepped on campus.”
Watkins’ final trip home was met with plenty of resistance, especially from his family. Getting into a fight with his dad, Watkins moved out to live on his own. It was then that he started to read the messages on social media and the internet that called him everything from a “cancer” to a “waste of talent.”
“Everyone else thinks that I'm just (wimping) out and stuff but really I'm playing through all this stuff and they don't even know it,” said Watkins. “I bet no one knows the first four games of my junior year I played with a torn meniscus. They don't know what I play through, only what I sit out on. I just wish people knew the tough and real Dareian.”
Watkins was a five-time first-team All-North Central Conference honoree at three different positions - twice as a quarterback, twice as a punter and once as a wide receiver. He drew attention for being suspended for his team’s opening-round playoff game, a 58-14 defeat, last fall after failing a drug test, a fact he admitted to, but said he has remained out of trouble since returning home, despite the swirling rumor mill.
“That's another thing,” said Watkins. “Coach Beatty contacted me a while back saying he heard I been stealing stuff, like what the heck?”
Over the last several weeks, things have improved in Watkins’ life. He’s taking the semester off and has moved back in with his father. He also hasn’t talked to his birth mom since the fake cancer scare.
Watkins is also starting to get the urge to play football again. He has to make up a high school math class that wasn’t approved of by the NCAA clearinghouse, and His body has started to heal from the high school injuries.
He’s still recovering through arthritis in his knee, as well as a shortage of cartilage in his knee to where it’s bone on bone. He also has a screw in his foot from a previous injury that didn’t heal correctly after he didn’t follow the recovery plan.
“I have high hopes of playing again,” said Watkins. “The big thing is if my body will allow me to be the player I was.”
If given a choice Watkins would love to return to Wisconsin. He has a lot of respect for wide receivers coach Chris Beatty and Andersen and has been talking to true freshman defensive tackle Jeremy Patterson through social media, being told his classmates miss him. He also has talked some with Beatty but says that’s, “more or a guilt trip then anything.”
Watkins said originally Andersen was going to allow him to come back next fall if he changed his mind. He doesn’t know if that deal still stands because the two have not spoken since the summer, and he hasn’t been released from his national letter of intent.
“I'd love to go back there and show the coaches they didn't waste their time on me, but the possibilities of that are slim to none,” said Watkins.
Although he doesn’t know where the future will take him, Watkins still sits down every Saturday and watches Wisconsin play, often thinking what he could have done differently to give himself a chance.
“I picture myself out there with the guys, making plays, maybe beating LSU, hell who knows?” said Watkins. “I realized as soon as I got to the airport for my second departure the mistake I was making, but at the time I didn't care. I regret that.”