Watkins Living Brother's Dream
Nick Watkins
Nick Watkins

Posted Sep 29, 2004

David Watkins wanted to see his younger brother play in a college football game. Making a tackle in a major college football stadium was a goal that David was unable to fulfill, so he lived the dream through his brother. In the last weeks of David's life, he was able to see that dream become a reality.

Watkins, a former LSU Tiger football player who had a heart transplant during the 1997 football season, died last Friday and will be laid to rest this Friday in Avondale.

Yet his goals and his dreams live on in Nick Watkins, a redshirt freshman linebacker for Clemson University. David never played for the LSU Tigers, and it took nothing short of a miracle for David to be able to see his brother suit up for the Clemson Tigers for the first time this fall.

"He inspired a lot of people and he touched a lot of people's lives," said Rose Watkins, the mother of David and Nick. "David always looked forward to Nicholas playing ball. It was an opportunity that David didn't have, and he enjoyed watching Nicholas do the things he wasn't able to do."

David Watkins, a native of New Orleans, was diagnosed with a heart condition in the spring of 1997 and underwent heart transplant surgery the following fall. He died Friday morning in New Orleans.

Visitation is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., with services to follow at 10 a.m., at Christian Unity Baptist Church, 1700 Conti Street, in New Orleans. Burial will immediately follow at Restlawn Cemetary in Avondale.

Watkins came to LSU as a defensive end out of Karr High School in New Orleans. He helped Karr to a 14-1 record and a spot in the state championship game in his senior season on his way to earning Class 3A All-State honors.

He was awarded a scholarship to LSU in the spring of 1996, but did not play in any of the Tigers' games his freshman year. He was a member of the practice squad and one of the behind-the-scenes players who contributed to LSU's successful 10-2 season.

As the Tigers prepared to play Clemson in the Peach Bowl following the 1996 season, Watkins began to complain of fatigue at the start of practice. In March of 1997, Watkins was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. After finishing the spring semester at school and sitting out spring drills, Watkins was then told he may need a heart transplant. By July, his condition had deteriorated and he had been put on a heart transplant list.

Watkins was battling for his life while his teammates had begun the 1997 football season. Late at night on Monday, September 15 of that year, the answer to Watkins' prayers came in the form of a heart donor. Early the next day, just 10 days shy of Watkins' 20th birthday, doctors at Oschsner Hospital began a three-hour procedure to remove his failing heart and replace it with a new one.

He made a rapid recovery and returned to school at LSU, but eventually his heart went into rejection in the final semester of his senior year. He left LSU only nine hours short of earning his college degree.

Despite being disabled, Watkins married and had a son, Dajan, who will be three years old in January. He coached neighborhood football teams, made speaking appearances to raise awareness of organ donation, and volunteered with the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency.

"He was such an inspiration to everyone," Rose said. "His cousin experienced congestive heart failure and was disabled, and David was her strength. Even through the most difficult times, he never complained. You would have never known he had a problem."

Meanwhile, Nick had begun his college career at Clemson, the very school LSU had been preparing to play in 1996 when David first fell ill. Nick was recruited to Clemson by the same assistant coach who had tried to recruit David to Tulane in 1996.

Watkins looked forward to traveling to Clemson this fall to see his brother in action. Nick had redshirted the 2003 season, but had worked into a playing role on the Clemson defense for 2004.

But David was hospitalized in May of this year as the condition of his heart worsened. Kidney failure kept him from being eligible for another heart transplant, and doctors painted a bleak picture. His dream of seeing his brother on the field was fading.

"They told us he would probably not get out of the hospital at that time, but the Lord fixed it so David could get out of the hospital," Rose said.

Although out of the hospital, David would have to be on kidney dialysis three days a week, preventing him from any extensive travel. Then came another miracle.

"The Lord healed up his kidney enough that he didn't need the dialysis, only a portable unit that allowed him to travel," Rose said. "He would be able to see his brother play after all."

David traveled to Clemson to see Nick in action in the Tigers' first two games against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. He took along his son, Dajan. Unfortunately, he didn't live to see the big game for his brother, the Florida State game in Tallahassee. David died the morning before the game.

"I called Nicholas and asked him how he was and what he wanted to do," Rose said. "He told me that David had always talked about the Florida State game, that he had wanted to see Nicholas play against Florida State. So Nicholas played in that game and he played for David."

Despite a loss to Florida State, Nick recorded a season high seven tackles and participated in a personal high of 32 plays. In the aftermath of that performance, head coach Tommy Bowden elevated Nick Watkins to co-starter at inside linebacker.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the David M. Watkins, Jr., Memorial Fund at any Bank One location.

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