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Scouts Come to See Thrower, but the Catcher Catches Their Eye

October 10, 1985|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

For more than a year, college scouts have been coming in droves to Claremont High School football games and practices in hope of persuading 6-8 All-American quarterback Dan McGwire to attend their school.

But some of them are leaving talking about wide receiver Travis Watkins, who has been catching recruiters' eyes as well as any passes thrown in his direction.

At 6-1 and 170 pounds, Watkins may not be quite as easy to notice as McGwire, but he is having a season that is difficult for scouts to ignore.

The 17-year-old senior has 24 receptions for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns, 7 carries (on reverses) for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns, 8 kickoff returns for 167 yards and 4 punt returns for 43 yards.

All this in only four games with the undefeated Wolfpack.

Watkins also produced outstanding numbers as a junior with 51 receptions for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns.

So why hasn't he received as much attention as McGwire?

"Dan has gotten a lot more offers than Travis but you have to consider that he (Dan) is rated the No. 1 or 2 quarterback prospect in the nation," Claremont Coach Bob Baiz said.

That is not to say that the scouts are ignoring Watkins.

Watkins said he has been heavily recruited by about 15 NCAA Division I schools, including Illinois and Purdue of the Big 10 Conference.

Not exactly droves of recruiters, but Watkins is satisfied just the same.

"I haven't received as many offers but that's just how the roles go," Watkins said. "I just try to catch as many passes as I can and if I get the publicity, OK. If not, that's OK too."

Watkins says that the presence of McGwire may actually be a benefit to his recruiting hopes.

"I feel I'm benefitting from people coming to see him," he said. "They'll look at him and then see me. A lot of doors have opened for me because Dan is here."

Baiz said if there is one knock recruiters place on Watkins it is speed. Watkins runs the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds. Fast, indeed, although not exactly the blazing speed most major colleges are after.

However, Watkins does have other factors in his favor. He has a 33-inch vertical leap, superb concentration and exceptional hands and he runs outstanding pass patterns.

"He not only runs good patterns, he is able to change his pattern," Baiz said. "Some receivers just go through with a pattern regardless of how it turns out. Travis will come back to the ball when he has to."

It is these characteristics that have drawn comparisons between receivers of the past such as former Oakland Raiders star Fred Biletnikoff.

Maybe it is no surprise that Watkins calls Biletnikoff his idol and patterns his play after him. "He didn't have a lot of speed but he ran great patterns and he did what he had to do to get the job done," Watkins said. "That's what I try to do."

Baiz said it is the inner drive of Watkins that sets him apart from most athletes he has coached.

"He's a fierce competitor," Baiz said. "He gives you every ounce of ability he has each game, whether it's football or basketball. You can take a look at him after each game and see that he is completely drained."

"I look at it as a challenge," Watkins said. "I've always been very competitive. I never go into anything halfway. I guess you could say that's the difference between a (good) athlete and a ho-hum. You go out to win and nothing else."

Watkins modestly tosses aside most of the praise he receives. He is quick to credit his coaches and his teammates for much of his success.

"There are a lot of great athletes around and a lot that are better than me," he said. "I think I was lucky enough to get into a good program like Claremont where I have an opportunity to show what I can do. We don't have a lot of outstanding athletes here but we're well-coached and fundamentally sound."

Watkins also says that his father, Gordon, has had a big hand in his success. Gordon was an all-state football and basketball player in high school in Ottumwa, Iowa, and played at the University of Northern Iowa. Travis was born in Ottumwa and lived in Littleton, Colo., and San Francisco before his family moved to Claremont when he was a ninth-grader.

"Since I've been old enough to play, he has encouraged me in a lot of sports and I learned a lot at an early age. He's always pushing me and he has been a great influence on me."

It may come as no surprise that Watkins also happens to be an outstanding basketball player. He starred with McGwire on the Claremont basketball team last year and led the Wolfpack in scoring with a 22-point average.

With his ability as a two-sport player, Baiz said the biggest question facing Watkins might be which sport he will play in college.

"He has a future in either sport, no question about it," Baiz said. "I think that's his biggest conflict."

Watkins admits that he has received more interest from recruiters in football than basketball, although he has received his share of scholarship offers in the latter sport.

What sport will he decide to play? Watkins says he is not ready to decide yet.

"I'll answer that six months from now but for the moment I just like whatever sport is in season," Watkins said.

And coaches at Claremont like him playing whatever sport is in season.

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