Variety has always been a key theme in Emmett Watkins’ involvement in athletics.
Whether it was as a four-sport athlete (football, track, baseball, basketball) or as a coach — he has served as a head coach in track and assistant under several notable football coaches — the native Floridian and former football player at Valdosta State University has had some very diverse experiences and ways of approaching different sports. Watkins — who has spent the last 12 years at Dacula, where he is currently the head boys track and field coach and an assistant on Clint Jenkins’ football coaching staff — recently spoke with staff writer David Friedlander about those experiences, and how they’ve helped shape his career
DF: You’ve been in Georgia quite a few years now. How did that come to be?
EW: I actually was born and raised in a small town called Starke that sits in north-central Florida between Jacksonville and Gainesville. I went to Valdosta State to play football. After my senior year in 1983, I’ve been in Georgia ever since. I loved my days and years playing in Valdosta and got experience meeting some coaches at Valdosta High — some good coaches at Valdosta High and Valdosta State at that time that kind of led me to coaching as a profession.
DF: I know you’ve gotten to meet and coach under some big-time names in coaching at different points of your career. Take us back and talk about some of them, if you would. Didn’t you serve as an assistant under legendary Valdosta High coach Nick Hyder at one time?
EW: No, I didn’t coach under Coach Hyder, but I did my student teaching at Valdosta High under (longtime defensive coordinator) Coach (Charles) Tarpley. Coach Hyder was there at that time. Just good people, good staff, good football knowledgeable people. Just good people altogether. It kind of left an imprint on me.
DF: Eventually you worked your way up north, and you’ve been at Dacula almost a dozen years now. In that time, you’ve gotten to serve under a variety of head football coaches here with some dramatically different philosophies in terms of strategies — from Kevin Maloof to Jared Zito to Tommy Jones to, now, Clint Jenkins. What’s that been like? You’ve had to adjust on the fly, haven’t you?
EW: That’s part of life nowadays. Coach Maloof was just a good, old-school football coach and just a good man — respected in the coaching profession for the job that he did. I’ve coached under a lot of head coaches, and he’s a good one. I’ve coached under (former University of Kentucky head coach) Hal Mumme when he was at Valdosta State, who’s a good throwing coach and just a good person. A lot of experience with just good coaches — football, track and field, basketball, all the sports that I played.
DF: Let’s talk about that, because you mentioned at least three sports that you participated in during your youth. Did you also run track at Valdosta State?
EW: Back when I was in high school, I got a chance to play … four sports (football, track and field, basketball and baseball) my freshman and sophomore years. Then, I trimmed it down after that.
DF: It must’ve been real interesting doing track and baseball in the same season.
EW: Well, it was work, but we enjoyed it. At that age, we just enjoyed getting out and competing. I still enjoy, through my kids and through my athletes competing today. That’s probably why I’m still doing what I’m doing.
DF: Do you enjoy coaching football or track and field more these days?
EW: I enjoy just being in competition with the kids. Football has always been my first love. It’s what I played as a kid first, the first sport I participated in. It’s been great to me. This year, I’ve got a son (Adam) who’s a 10th-grader in the football program here, and it’s an enjoyment to be able to sit back and watch and not have to do any coaching. I’ve coached him since age 6 to high school. This will be the first year I haven’t coached him. It’s been a blessing for me to be able to just sit back and enjoy watching.
DF: Well, while he’s still getting started on the varsity level in football, he’s definitely made a name for himself as a thrower for the track team already.
EW: Coach (Dave) Machovec does all the coaching with the throwers. Actually, when Adam started throwing, track was supposed to be a way for getting a big kid in shape and making him run a little bit more so he could be a better football player. And he just started excelling in throwing from about the age of 10 on, and he’s been throwing AAU and USA Track and Field throwing. … He would come over here and throw with Coach Mac after we would get done throwing. That’s just been a blessing.
DF: You’re a pretty big guy yourself. Did you throw during track and field season when you were growing up?
EW: I actually ran the 100- and 200-(meter dashes).
EW: It’s just something. With Adam’s size, and he’s gotten into and I think it’s something he really loves and cares about and competes in.
DF: Do you have any stories about some big-time names you competed against? The sprint events usually feature some big-time athletes, including a lot of speed guys from football.
EW: Well, back in Florida, we had districts instead of regions. Probably the best athlete in my (district) was a kid named John L. Williams, who went to the University of Florida and played for the Seattle Seahawks and the (Pittsburgh) Steelers for years. A guy named Buford that played quarterback for them. There were a lot of good athletes in our area. Just a lot to name. I played basketball against some good players. Vernon Maxwell was in our district at that time, and he played in the NBA for years. So I’ve had my chance to (compete) with athletes over the years.
DF: When you came up here, what brought you to Gwinnett County? Obviously, you’ve found a home here.
EW: I did some things when I was teaching at Bradwell Institute (in southeast Georgia). We used to travel up and bring kids up to different events in Atlanta, and it was about a 3 1/2 to four-hour drive. My kids were getting to the age where I wanted to settle down and make it a final stop for them. We visited Gwinnett County and I did some things online, and there were some opportunities to open up here. And Coach Maloof was someone I’d heard a lot about and respected. He offered me a position here, and it just felt like my family felt like it was going to be the best opportunity for us.
DF: Going back to what you talked about playing four sports, a lot of people lament the age of specialization we’re in and how you don’t see nearly as many multi-sport athletes these days. I know Adam plays at least two right now, so I’m thinking you’re in the camp of encouraging kids to play multiple sports?
EW: Adam played JV basketball …
DF: So that’s three sports.
EW: And he’s been involved in all the sports. You want them to have fun and to be interested in it. But then when it gets down to it, you want them to have success in what they’re doing, too. So I think that plays a big part. Coaching has changed so much now to where you don’t have coaches that coach multiple sports anymore. Sometimes people want you to slim to do just that and be good at that sport. So sometimes it limits kids, and I just think they should be able to enjoy all the sports.