MADISON, Wis. — University of Wisconsin football recruit Dareian Watkins, a highly touted wide receiver from Galion, Ohio, has left the team due to homesickness and will no longer be a part of the program, his high school coach told FOXSportsWisconsin.com on Friday.
Galion High School football coach Chris Hawkins described the bizarre circumstances surrounding Watkins’ departure as unfortunate and noted his star player had made a "stupid decision" that has now cost him an opportunity to play Big Ten football.
Hawkins said Watkins showed up on time for summer workouts in June but returned home after a week when a friend picked him up. Wisconsin’s coaches offered to allow Watkins back with the team if he returned by the end of the week, Hawkins said. Watkins then made the eight-hour trip back to Madison but left again just a few days later, despite his parents’ pleas for him to remain in school. Members of the Badgers’ coaching staff then decided to part ways with Watkins, and Watkins has not communicated with them since.
"Me being his coach and very close to him, it makes me sick to my stomach," Hawkins said. "I know, his parents know, we all know he’s made a huge mistake. Because he’s the best athlete I’ve ever coached. I’ve been doing this 20-something years.
"I know he would have, in the right frame of mind, not only helped Wisconsin — I think he would have helped them this year. I think he would have been a great player in the Big Ten for Wisconsin."
Watkins was one of two incoming recruits not listed on Wisconsin’s updated online roster, along with wide receiver Chris Jones (Baltimore, Md.). A Wisconsin team spokesperson confirmed Friday that neither Watkins nor Jones enrolled in summer classes but declined to comment further. Messages left for Watkins, Jones and Jones’ high school coach, Elijah Brooks, were not immediately returned.
Hawkins stressed Watkins’ issues were not related to academics or conduct issues.
"He didn’t get kicked off," Hawkins said. "He’s just making a stupid choice because of homesickness and a girlfriend. It’s a weak, weak, weak excuse. But I guess in the mind of 18-year-old boys, sometimes it’s stronger than we can even imagine. . . . He’s unfortunately I think letting a golden opportunity go by."
Watkins, a 6-foot-2, 192-pounder, was the only four-star wide receiver in Wisconsin’s 2014 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com and Scout.com. He was a five-time first-team All-North Central Conference honoree, twice as a quarterback, twice as a punter and once as a wide receiver. He earned third-team all-state at wide receiver in Ohio as a junior despite playing only five games at the position.
As a senior, Watkins played quarterback and finished with 1,456 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,287 yards and 17 touchdowns. Watkins, who initially committed to Northwestern, flipped his commitment to Wisconsin last November and was expected to contribute to the wide receiver group immediately.
The team’s returning receivers — Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson, Kenzel Doe and Rob Wheelwright — combined to catch just 28 passes for 299 yards and no touchdowns. And with the departure of No. 1 wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who caught a school-record 78 passes for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns, there were plenty of opportunities available.
Hawkins noted Watkins’ troubles began when he moved away from home after turning 18 and said he no longer was communicating with his family, which adopted him when he was 11 following a difficult upbringing through foster care.
"This has changed a lot of things," Hawkins said. "He’s not even living with his parents right now. I’m trying to get him back on track. He’s a good kid. I don’t want to make his story sound like he’s a bad kid. He’s not.
"He’s just making some stupid choices, some stupid decisions. He’s just basing everything on the now. He’s not looking at the big picture. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be with the Badgers. But this is all on Dareian. It’s not Wisconsin. This was his choice."
Hawkins said he didn’t believe Wisconsin had released Watkins from his scholarship yet, but he applauded Badgers coaches for giving Watkins a second chance. He also said he’d already received several phone calls from Division I and Division II schools should Watkins be officially granted his release.
"As far as the future is concerned, I’m not for sure," Hawkins said. "As you can imagine, I am getting drilled with calls. Some are from smaller D-I schools, though he’d have to sit out. Now I’m getting drilled with D-II schools, especially closer to home. I’m trying to work with him there. Because he’s so talented. There’s still scholarship offers out there, but obviously not at the level of the Big Ten.
"I’m hoping I can help at least get him into school. After that, who knows? If I can get him in there, get him playing football, maybe he’ll get his mind straight."