There was a thought during Alabama’s spring football practice, when Alex Watkins went down with a severe knee injury, that his career might be over. He had surgery, started rehabilitation, and worked himself into shape to play his fi.nal season with the Crimson Tide.
Then against Tennessee on Oct. 22 he suffered a broken arm. He had surgery to have a plate inserted in his left arm the next morning. Two weeks later he was playing in one of the most physical football games ever when Alabama played LSU. In fact, he played well enough to earn one of five player of the week citations from the coaching staff for his performance on special teams.
“I don’t get surprised much when guys come back from injuries,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “but this guy never missed a day. I mean he gets his arm operated on and a plate put in his arm on Sunday, and runs out on the field on Monday like he’s ready to practice.
“I said, ‘Well, at least put a black (non-contact designation) shirt on so you don’t get hit.’
“He didn’t do a lot for a week or 10 days, but when he started feeling a little bit better, he started gradually getting back into things, and we were able to use him on special teams. We’ll probably be able to continue to increase his role this week.
“Alex Watkins is an amazing guy.
“He has been a great leader for this group, and really cares about the team. He has done so many good things to affect other people.”
Offensive guard Chance Warmack agrees that “Alex is just amazing, man. He’s made player of the week twice with already a messed up knee and then he broke his arm in season. He’s just a phenomenal guy. Nice person. He’s just amazing. That’s the best way I can put it. Amazing guy and hard worker.”
Center William Vlachos said, “Tough guy. That’s the epitome of toughness there. I can’t imagine what it feels like, but that’s obviously some toughness. I guess he doesn’t feel pain if he’s practicing the day after having a plate put in his arm.”
“He’s like our Superman,” said Tide tailback Trent Richardson. “He’s got all my respect.”
Watkins, a 6-3, 240-pound senior, suggests, “I guess I’m blessed. Good genes, I guess. You just fight through the pain.”
Watkins took one hit during the LSU game “that hurt it. But you’ve got to fight through pain and play for your team. You have to block it out. You’ve got to do what you’re capable of doing.”
He hopes the 23 staples (“I counted”) and the plate are removed Wednesday, which would be two and a half weeks after surgery.
He has had about an 18-minute preparation for practice with a new cast each day. The cast goes over a cushion and is then wrapped in foam padding.
Watkins said it was his first broken bone, but he knew when the Tennessee offensive lineman fell against him that the arm was fractured.
And he has known pain and surgery before. Last spring he suffered a torn ACL, a sprained MCL, nad a torn lateral meniscus.
Watkins said when he suffered the knee injury he began thinking about getting back. He didn’t know if he would make it for the start of the season. “I made sure I got my rehab and was there every day to make sure I was getting better,” he said.
He also thought his career might be over when he suffered the broken arm.
And he thinks the fact this is his senior season could have contributed to his resolve.
“It’s very important to be on this team,” he said. “Every time you go out there, you’re going to be part of something great. You’re playing for Alabama. Of course I want to be out there and I want to be part of that.”
Fellow defensive player Josh Chapman had suggested to reporters that Watkins was able to play through the pain because he’s a country boy.
“I guess you could say I was from the country,” said Watkins, whose hometown is listed as Brownsville, Tenn. Actually, he said, he’s from Nutbush, which limited research reveals is an unincorporated community of fewer than 300 in West Tennessee and birthplace of singer Tina Turner.
“I guess you could say it was from being from the country and a lot of stuff I do. I mean, I’ve been chopping wood since I was about eight, so I guess you could count that as how I got a high tolerance for pain.”
Like an ax accident?
“I didn’t have any accidents,” he said. “Do you know how small you are at 10 or 8?”
He said his father didn’t like the idea of Alex being inside playing video games. “My dad told us to go outside and chop wood. And of course it was going to be cold.”
He gave reporters a little lesson in how to swing an axe to get the proper leverage.
And when he goes home, he still chops a little wood.