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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press After missing last season with an arm injury, Notre Dame cornerback Nick Watkins is back on the field and confident as ever. “I always felt like I was the best corner in the room from the time I came here,” he said.

Thursday, September 07, 2017 1:00 am

Watkins feels better than ever

Arm injury forced Irish cornerback to miss 2016 campaign

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame vs. Georgia

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

TV: NBC

Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM, 107.3 FM

SOUTH BEND – Staying healthy is a big part of success in college football, and Notre Dame takes it very seriously.

The Irish employ a chiropractor and a nutritionist and invest in technology to monitor players' sleep habits and GPS chips to measure exertion – basically, anything to provide players additional ways to maintain their bodies.

Nick Watkins tried to do everything right but still ended up with a mysterious injury last year that failed to heal properly. After six months of waiting, doctors decided his left arm required a second surgery, forcing him to redshirt the 2016 season.

“It was very frustrating,” Watkins said. “It didn't heal to the point they thought it would, ... and then it stopped healing all by itself. I was in the training room. I did everything I could to get back out here.”

A living testament to the unpredictability of injuries, Watkins is back now. And just as quickly as he went off the radar, he rose to new heights, winning a job as one of Notre Dame's starting cornerbacks.

In the Irish's 49-16 season-opening win over Temple on Saturday, the Owls mostly threw away from Watkins' side, and he finished with only one tackle, which can actually be a good thing for a corner.

“I wouldn't read too much into it that he's a lockdown corner,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “They all can get beat. I think it's circumstances more than anything else that he only had a couple of attempts his way. I think Nick did a very good job, don't get me wrong.”

A four-star recruit out of Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas, Watkins played in 11 games as a freshman in 2014 and 12 as a sophomore. His only start, however, came as an injury fill-in in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day 2016.

In 2017, Watkins has the power of knowledge. He knows, without a doubt, his time has arrived.

“Starting the Fiesta Bowl and getting off to a good start in spring (2016), I felt like I was poised for a big year, a breakout year,” Watkins said. “(The injury) is just something I had to go through. I feel like a better player, a better person, for it. It taught me not to take anything for granted, so every time I go out there I have fun.”

At 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, Watkins has the size, speed and coverage skills to be good. Kelly has long known there's talent there.

“Nick Watkins is a bigger corner,” Kelly said. “He's got very good size. He's long. He's very coachable. He's a great kid.

“He had a really terrific offseason in the weight room. You can see his transition out of his break, breaking on the ball, playing physical at the line of scrimmage. The season off obviously was in a lot of ways disappointing, but I think he benefited greatly from that year to learn.”

One thing Watkins didn't need to rehabilitate? His self-belief.

“At this position you've got to have confidence,” Watkins said. “I always felt like I was the best corner in the room from the time I came here. All I needed was an opportunity.”

cgoff@jg.net