Havelock senior defensive lineman Billy Watkins missed a couple of days of practice in preparation for the 2014 season.
“He had to go with his church to Florida for a singing and dancing church thing,” Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant said. “We let him go for that. We told him he’s going to have to demonstrate that for the team one day.”
Watkins would have no problem with that.
“He’s a really good Christian kid. He’s very grounded in his faith,” Bryant said of Watkins. “He always leads our team prayer. The coaching staff doesn’t lead it. Billy is the guy who always leads it.”
The quiet Watkins, who has the nickname “The Reverend,” doesn’t shy away from his faith.
“We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us,” he said.
Bryant said Watkins is one of those student-athletes who gives him no problems.
“Billy is a great kid,” he said. “The teachers love him. When the teachers talk to you about a player, it’s usually negative, but they always tell us how big of a joy it is to have Billy Watkins in class. He always comes in with a smile on his face. He’s a very polite kid, yes sir and no sir.
“But the thing I like about him is he’s got a mean streak on the football field, which is what you’ve got to have to play on our defensive line.”
Watkins (5-foot-11, 240 pounds) had 48 tackles a season ago. He understands his role is to make plays when he can, but also to occupy the offensive line, allowing Havelock’s corps of experienced linebackers to make plays.
“They depend on us to get back there and get to the quarterback, and if we create a gap, then they run through that gap,” he said.
Havelock lost leading tackler Andrew Ramirez, defensive lineman Maurice Harris and four players from the secondary to graduation off a defense that last year allowed just 6.6 points per game. But Watkins has confidence in his teammates.
“The team is going to be better than it was last year,” he said. “We’re going after another ring.”
Should the Rams win the state championship, it would be their fourth in a row, and Watkins can think of no better way to end his high school playing career.
“It would mean so much for us,” he said. “All the hard work we put in during the summer and during the break, it would just mean a lot.”
Havelock opens the season against Washington at 7 p.m. Friday at Havelock High before hosting New Bern on Aug. 29. Watkins said he may just be looking forward to the game against the county rival Bears the most.
“It’s going to be exciting,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of people. It will be a lot of noise. You won’t really be able to hear all the calls. But it’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be a real good game.”
And Watkins knows he’ll have the support of his coaches and teammates whenever he takes the field.
“We’re all brothers,” he said. “We’re all a big family. I depend a lot on those guys.
“I’m just proud to be a part of this team. I’m proud to be coached by Coach Bryant and all the other staff.”
Watkins has bigger goals beyond football, and he knows he’ll have his fellow Rams behind him.
“I’m planning on graduating and going to college, crossing that stage with the rest of my teammates,” he said. “I just want to work hard and try to make it to college.”