Brother's Dream Becomes Watkins' Reality

by -

BATON ROUGE - 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

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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