MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va --
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.— From football to the Marines—one man who once led men on the gridiron defending the legacy of his team now embraces a legacy of leading Marines.
A former NCAA Division I student athlete who played linebacker for Coastal Carolina University, 2nd Lt. Tyler R. Watkins, transitioned from leading men on the gridiron to leading Marines in the Corps. Watkins is currently assigned to the Plans and Research section at Marine Corps Recruiting Command aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a hero,” said Watkins.
Watkins now defines being a hero as serving his country, protecting his loved ones and setting the example for his 2-year-old son, Easton. Lessons learned through a series of challenges strengthened his character and willpower to become a Marine officer.
Watkins, 240-pounds of southern country muscle stacked as high as 6 feet, 1 inch, was introduced to football when he was 5 years old in his hometown, Indian Land, S.C., and played through college. He received multiple scholarship offers while attending high school, but decided to attend Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. Watkins earned a spot in Presbyterian’s lineup his sophomore year, and things were looking promising. Blindsided in the spring of 2012 by the death of his teammate, Watkins learned what it means to redefine his path.
Kyle Allen passed away due to intoxication. Allen was Watkins’ roommate, teammate, gym partner, fraternity buddy and friend. Watkins believes if Allen was alive today, they would be serving together as Marine Officers.
“I love him, I miss him, but I needed to continue and move out of that environment,” said Watkins.
Looking to escape memories associated with the loss of his friend, Watkins transferred to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. He lost his football scholarship after transferring and risked paying for college out of pocket. The transfer ended up being the right move. Watkins walked onto Coastal’s football team, and he fell in love with the program and staff. With assistance from financial aid, he was able to pay for his tuition.
Coastal has one standard, said Joe Moglia, head coach for Coastal’s Chanticleers. It is “BAM, which is short for ‘Be a Man.’”
“In my 25 years of coaching, Tyler would be amongst the very top of those young men and student athletes that lived up to what BAM really means,” Moglia said. “He was a special leader and a committed player on our team.”
Coaches at Coastal teach athletes to “stand on their own two feet” and take responsibility for their actions, Moglia said.
Watkins soon discovered he would learn this lesson and face a whole new set of challenges and responsibilities with news that his girlfriend was pregnant.
“It was tough going to school, playing football and helping raise Easton when I could,” said Watkins. “People try to tell you what to do because they believe they know what is best for you. I really owe it to the support I received to keep me in school.”
In December 2014, Watkins graduated Coastal with a bachelor’s in Political Science.
Watkins believed he was done with football after college, but received a call from an athletic trainer urging him to pursue an athletic career. To reassure himself with a second plan, he visited Capt. Peter C. Foster, an officer selection officer, with Recruiting Station Columbia, S.C. By the end of the visit, Watkins told Foster, “I will be back here in a few months if things don’t work out.”
Watkins pursued football and trained with rising star athletes to prepare to play professionally, Watkins said. The journey was taking too long, so he cut his losses and kept his word and returned to Foster.
“In preparation for Officer Candidates School, I quickly understood there wasn’t much that I could teach him about determination and grit,” said Foster.
Well-suited for the challenge from years of football, he left for Quantico and OCS in May 2016.
My previous struggles in life served as motivation to graduate OCS, Watkins said.
He graduated from OCS on August 6, 2016, and earned the title of Marine after commissioning. Unfortunately, Watkins cannot continue his training at The Basic School aboard MCB Quantico, due to injuries he sustained while training. He is temporarily attached to MCRC until he is medically fit to tackle TBS, and he has his sights set on being cleared for the class starting in March 2017.
“Quitting was never part of me,” said Watkins. “There were some tough times in college, but God, my family and my coaches helped me through those times... I’m not 100 percent right now, but I am still working out every day to prepare for TBS.”
Watkins is excited to continue his career as a Marine officer, he said. But most importantly, he wants Easton to be proud of the man he is, and hopes to set the example for his son to follow.
“The Marine Corps sets the example for the type of person you should want to be,” said Watkins. “If you don’t pick up the [gear] off the field, your players won’t—your Marines won’t. It’s easy to do the wrong things, but you will learn discipline doing the right things, and that resonates with people you lead.”