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Originally published February 24, 2011 at 8:30 PM | Page modified February 25, 2011 at 8:07 PM

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Seahawks eye hockey-loving lineman Danny Watkins in NFL draft

Danny Watkins grew up in British Columbia and took up football late, but is one of the top offensive guards in the NFL draft.

Seattle Times staff reporter

INDIANAPOLIS — Danny Watkins lost two teeth playing hockey and spent four years fighting fires before he played a down of football.

Of the 330 players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, it will be hard to find any prospect who has followed a more unlikely path than the 26-year-old native of West Kelowna, B.C.

"I've grown up as a true Canadian hockey kid," Watkins said.

A Canucks fan, he was a defenseman who outgrew his dream pretty early, weighing 270 pounds as a high-school senior.

"There weren't too many 270-pound hockey players, so I figured that was beginning to be a bit of a pipe dream," Watkins said.

After graduation, he went to work for the fire department. Four years ago, he headed to Butte College in Oroville, Calif., to boost his career. His firefighting career, that is. But when he talked to the school's football coach, Jeff Jordan saw a blank slate of possibilities.

"He was raw just as far as the game," Jordan said. "One of the things I think benefited him is he didn't have many bad habits that he came in with. You could start with him from scratch."

Watkins transferred to Baylor, but Waco, Texas, didn't rub off any of that charming Canadian naiveté. While preparing for the scouting combine in Arizona, he found himself eating lunch alongside a dreadlocked athlete. Watkins had no idea he was next to baseball star Manny Ramirez.

Every NFL team is well aware of Watkins, though. He weighs 310 pounds and is considered one of the top two interior linemen available in this draft, someone the Seahawks are thought to be very high on.

He played tackle at Baylor the past two years, but moved to guard at the Senior Bowl. His arms aren't as long as NFL teams like in a tackle, and at 310 pounds, he's more suited to playing inside.

That puts him squarely in an area of need for Seattle, whose search for a starting guard is a seemingly annual event since 2006, when Steve Hutchinson left town.

The Seahawks have tried signing veterans like Mike Wahle and Ben Hamilton. They have drafted players like Mansfield Wrotto and Steve Vallos in the later rounds. They moved Stacy Andrews from tackle last season.

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Of all the moves Seattle made last season, the biggest mistake was trading Rob Sims to Detroit while also moving up from a seventh- to a fifth-round draft pick. Sims didn't fit former offensive-line coach Alex Gibbs' prototype, and Gibbs quit before the season started.

The Seahawks are still searching.

Watkins could be an option in the draft. Or maybe Florida's Mike Pouncey, considered by many to be the best guard in this draft.

Is Watkins' age a detriment? He's at least four years older than most others.

"Well, I don't have arthritis," he said. "So I'm feeling pretty good."

That was true even after undergoing physical examinations on Thursday, part of the checkup every player goes through at the combine.

"I was one of the first guys out of there," Watkins said. "I don't have anything wrong."

Now, the question is how good can he be. He spent the first four years after high school working out of the West Kelowna Firehouse. Now the hockey-loving kid has become a football-playing prospect.

"I feel like my skill level just keeps improving every year," Watkins said. "I think there's still quite an upside to my peak performance, so it's hard to say what that is or when that would be."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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