CEDAR RAPIDS – When the Cedar Rapids Titans brought indoor football to town five years ago, they professed a commitment for their players to give back to the eastern Iowa community that welcomed them.
Charles Watkins made it a year-round venture.
Following the conclusion of a season in which he caught 44 passes for 509 yards and five touchdowns, Watkins took up residence in Coralville, where he became a substitute teacher for the Iowa City Community School District and the head coach of the Northwest Junior High eighth-grade football team.
“We were competitive and that’s what made me happy,” Watkins said before the Cedar Rapids Titans won their regular-season opener, 39-15, over the Green Bay Blizzard Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Center. “To come to practice every day and see guys that couldn’t catch a ball to, at the end of the year, were catching one-hand passes. That was great to see.”
That is not to suggest his playing days were behind him. Watkins jumped at the opportunity to re-join the Titans for the 2016 season.
“The city, they embraced me,” Watkins said. “They adopted me. Cedar Rapids has been great to me. The fans are great, the organization is great from the GM to the owners to the coaches. It felt like home and when Coach (Mark Stoute) asked me to come back, it was a no-brainer. I love it here.”
Watkins comes from a long line of educators in his family and earned his bachelor’s degree from Duke in three years while on scholarship to play football. It all could have unraveled right there when he was dismissed from the football team following an April 2012 arrest for misdemeanor assault.
“It was definitely an eye-opener,” Watkins said. “It humbled me, got me back into church and made me focus on things that were actually good for me instead of just trying to be lukewarm.”
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A New Jersey native, Watkins returned to the northeast and played his final season of college football at Wagner College, where he caught 45 passes for 484 yards and four TDs in 2013. Even though his football eligibility was exhausted, Watkins stayed in school and completed his master’s coursework in elementary education.
Watkins hopes to return to coaching once the Titans season is over, perhaps as a collegiate graduate assistant or in a high school position.
“I understand the game well. I think I’ve been around a lot of great coaches like Coach Cutcliffe at Duke to Coach Stoute here now,” Watkins said. “I think definitely that transition would be a tremendous thing for me.”
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