Quez Watkins: 'I’m ready to wake these people up'
Every year, there's an unsung hero in the Super Bowl. Philly's slot receiver knows the Chiefs will have their hands full with everyone else. He shares his story with us for this Q&A.
PHOENIX — Nobody was at Quez Watkins’ media table this day. Throughout Super Bowl Week, all players are available to reporters from around the world.
Yet the Philadelphia Eagles’ slot receiver has mostly been sitting in silence.
Fine by him.
Watkins hopes the scene here at the team hotel is similar to how the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense chooses to defend their offense. With attention steered toward other playmakers, he’ll have opportunities… and Super Bowl history is rich with stories of secondary weapons seizing the night. The last time the Eagles were in this game, you may recall running back Corey Clement going off for 100 receiving yards against the Patriots. So, Watkins is ready.
This is the former sixth-round pick’s third season. After catching 43 balls for 647 yards in 2021, he had 33 receptions for 353 yards and three youchdowns this regular season.
Watkins knows how easily life could’ve changed growing up in Athens, Ala.
And like a certain “Ghost” over on the Eagles defense, he draws a bit of motivation from Nick Saban.
Enjoying Go Long? You can always upgrade your subscription right here. Thanks for joining our community:
I honestly do not know a hell of a lot about you. Where does your story start?
Watkins: Family. That’s the biggest thing. My family drives me most honestly. My siblings — my little brothers, my big brother, my pops — they’re the ones who make me go.
What was it like growing up in Alabama?
Watkins: Not too many resources. Not too many people getting recruited that much. Just play ball, have fun, small city.
What did you go through as a kid (in Athens, Ala.) that made you who you are?
Watkins: Honestly, seeing some of my close friends I grew up with — from 5-year-olds to 15-year-olds — as we played ball together, to see the different paths we took. I could’ve been on that same path they were on and I chose a different one.
You hear it often, but it’s true. Damar Hamlin, in McKees Rocks, Pa., told us that by the time he turned 21, more than half of the friends he grew up with were dead.
Watkins: I had a starting five basketball team — the same guys I grew up with. There was like four of us. By the end of the season, I was the last person left. I was the last one in school. They went to the streets and stuff like that.
How easy is it to go that direction?
Watkins: It’s very easy. These are my best friends. These are people I grew up with. We did everything together. Normally, if you’re going to take this path, I’m going to take this path. You want to go to the mall, let’s go to the mall. But in that situation, that’s why I really look up to my pops. He was the biggest difference for me. It was, “What do you want to do 10 years from now? If this is what you want to do — if this is the path you take — you won’t have a choice but to do this.”
Did your friends not have Dads around?
Watkins: Some did. But some aren’t going to listen. You’ve got to make the choice yourself.
It’s probably not out of the movies where you’re literally choosing to be in a gang.
Watkins: We didn’t really have any gangs. It was just, “F--k this. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to go spend my time here instead of doing this.” There was nothing out there for me.
Selling drugs. Really quick, fast money. Any way to get money, they’d do it.
I’d imagine it’s hard because you want to hang out with your friends? Did you need to cold-turkey drop them?
Watkins: Only two I cut off cold turkey. But that was in the mix of me trying to get them back and it didn’t go as planned, so I had to cut ties. I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve been dreaming of this since I started. That was difference. … In Year 3, I could’ve never imagined. This was a dream of mine — being in the NFL and, one day, getting to a Super Bowl. This was always my plan.
What’s your relationship with your Dad like?
Watkins: He coached me from when I was four until 12 years old. But he’s someone who always has my back and my best interests. Kind of like twins in some sort. The things he’s been through, I’ve been through. So we relate in a lot in certain situations. We talk to each other. … He races motorcycles, so that’s our bonding time. He pays somebody to race motorcycles. That’s his thing. He likes motorcycles, cars, drag racing. It’s that and football.
You get into high school, what were the breakthrough moments for you? When you started to realize the dream you had could become real.
Watkins: Sophomore year of high school. It was midway through the season. Maybe like the fifth game of the season. I didn’t start. Barely played if I played. And I finally got in, in the fourth quarter. On a punt return, I took it to the house. From then, I just took off. They kept putting me back there and they kept getting me the ball and I kept making plays until I became a starter and it took off from there. That year, a lot of people could see I could really play ball. This was the year I transitioned to playing receiver. I had played quarterback.
I want to say it was against West Point. It was like 60 yards. I was zigging and zagging and running to the sideline. I remember my head was all the way back. I was just trying to go.
So that was the moment you started to have true belief?
Watkins: Yeah, and then at the end of the year, my coach started showing me schools sending emails and mail. I’m like, “OK, this is for real. Let’s go. I’m locking in on football.”
You chose Southern Miss, and I think I saw you could’ve gone to Middle Tennessee (like Blankenship)?
Watkins: I was actually about to go there. It just didn’t go as planned on my visit.
Reed said how much Nick Saban motivated him up at Alabama’s camp. Shook it his hand but didn’t seem to care that much about him, before moving along to somebody else.
Watkins: I’ve got my own story. Honestly, I can relate to that one. We were doing a 7-on-7 camp at Alabama. I just started balling — balling — so they called me in. They wanted to weigh and measure me, stuff like that. I measured out at like 5-10, 170. They said I was too small. I went back out and continued to ball. I always held that grudge.
That’s funny, because we hear about players getting to college and then bulking up and 5-10 is not short and you can always put on weight and you’re playing well.
Watkins: Hey, it is what it is.
Who told you that?
Watkins: Bill Napier called me in. He was more on the friendly side. It was a recruiter who said but Nick had pulled him to the side and tried to say it low — “he’s too small.” Nick pulled the recruiter to the side. He was talking to him and when he came back, he told Bill: “Nick doesn’t like him. He’s too small.” Nick didn’t tell me himself. … This was my senior year, my last year. It might’ve been a two-day camp. It was our high school team against other high school teams right at Alabama.
And that legitimately motivated you?
Watkins: It definitely did. I was hoping an SEC school would take a chance and I was ready to torch them up. I was hoping Tennessee. That would’ve been my best option if I got to an SEC school.
But if you go to an SEC school, are you sitting right here?
Watkins: You never know. I’m blessed to go through what I went through.
At Southern Miss, what were your breakthroughs? When did the NFL become real in college?
Watkins: Coming in, they had two guys projected to get drafted and one of them actually did: Mike Thomas to the Rams. So, seeing them, I said, “I can do this.” Seeing guys when I got there — my first year, redshirting — I’d see guys ball out and see NFL coaches come and get the whole rundown. Being behind people and seeing it myself, I said, “I can do this.” I knew I could be better than they were, so my goal was to get drafted higher than them and have a better career than the people ahead of me.
Best memory on the field?
Watkins: My return my last year against Troy. It was at home. It was the first time I played in Alabama.
You get drafted but not a lot of sixth-rounders last three years and have a role on an offense in the Super Bowl. What do you think is really inside of you that’s helped you become this player?
Watkins: The drive to never be complacent, to never be comfortable. Always want to be better.
That 91-yarder last year give you a jolt?
Watkins: See, I’m still mad about that. I should’ve scored.
There’s always somebody in the Super Bowl that we’re not talking about, not thinking about — I’m walking around here and you’re here by yourself. You’re under the radar still.
Watkins: I’m always laidback, man. I’m ready to wake these people up.
We see unsung heroes prop up every year. Why do you think that player could be you?
Watkins: Honestly, because of all the attention on Jalen, Miles, Smitty, A.J. All the attention is on those guys. In the defense’s mind, they’re not going to want those guys to go off. They forget about guys like me.
Watkins: Never. I’m more excited. I feel like it’s going to be me, so I’m more excited.
What do you do outside of football?
Watkins: I stay to myself. I like to shop. Play the game. Chill with my girl, relax, quality time.
Any TV shows?
Watkins: BMF, on STARZ, I’ve been watching that. I just finished Ozark.
Do any of these tattoos have special meaning to you?
Watkins: “The Game Runs Through My Veins.” I’ve been playing this game since I was four years old. My memories are on my chest. I’ve got my Grandma on my chest. I’ve got the city of Athens on my back.
You feel like you have your city on your back? A lot of people looking up to you?
Watkins: That’s honestly how I feel. I might be, out of Athens High School, the only one to make it to the NFL other than Philip Rivers. There’s only been two of us. I’ve watched so many people take the wrong path. So many people.
Close friends, not many are dead. But locked up, I have a few.
A long time?
Watkins: I’ve got one who’s actually doing 33 years. Some are in and out. It’s hard to keep track.
Watkins: It was kind of self-defense. Premeditated self-defense. Bullies, honestly. He was tired of being bullied at that point. That’s what it comes down to in the world.
That’s why I’m blessed to be here. I always keep a smile on my face.
Go Long Super Bowl coverage…
One Hall of Fame QB asks Green Bay: 'Don’t you get tired of it?'
'He’s the football version of Shaq:' How Chris Jones wrecks games