Butler’s new top dawg: Hard work pays off as Watkins breaks second record in as many games

Zach Watkins has made a habit of catching passes over the past four years. This season, the senior receiver is making a habit of breaking records.

After becoming the all-time receptions leader Sept. 17, Watkins  added another notch to his belt, surpassing Dan Bohrer as the Bulldogs’ leader in receiving yards with 2,308.

And Watkins made the record-breaking play in appropriate fashion.

Fully extended in the corner of the end zone, Watkins made a leaping touchdown grab that gave Butler a 7-6 lead over Drake.

Photo by Maria Porter

“He’s made some catches that you wonder how in the heck he made,” coach Jeff Voris said. “The one that broke the record, he’s probably laying on his back. That was just the perfect way for him to get it.”

Following the game, Watkins deflected his achievement back to his teammates.

“I see it more as a team goal than an individual goal,” Watkins said. “At the end of the day, I catch the ball, but it wouldn’t happen without 10 other guys.”

Voris, on the other hand, commented on the impressiveness of Watkins, a four-year letter winner, and his recently acquired records.

“To have those types of records, you need to be able to find the field early,” Voris said.

Watkins did just that, turning heads as an underclassman with his dazzling catches and big-play ability.

Butler receivers coach Kenan Smith knows what it takes to be a successful wideout. Smith was an all-conference receiver at Sacramento State and finished his collegiate career on the school’s  top 10 list for receptions.

“Zach has some of the strongest hands I’ve ever seen,” Smith said. “He makes catches that sometimes I’m even amazed he makes.”

Even so, Smith says that Watkins’ success is as much a product of off-the-field efforts as natural talent.

“I would come in to the office in the summer, and Zach would be sitting in the dark watching film,” Smith said. “He is always trying to get better.”

Assistant coach Nick Anderson oversaw the Bulldogs’ receiving corps from 2007 to 2010 before focusing specifically on cornerbacks this season. During that time, Anderson watched Watkins mature as both a player and a person.

“It has been really fun watching him grow from being a young guy who couldn’t remember one play to a guy who can line up at any position and know what he’s doing,” Anderson said. “The best part for me has been watching him grow as a person and young man.”

Four games into his final season as a Bulldog, Watkins has yet to reflect on his Butler career. Instead, the wideout is focusing on the short term, establishing one clear objective: win the Pioneer Football League conference title.

“Seeing the seniors hold up that trophy [in 2009] meant a lot to me,” Watkins said. “It’s something that I definitely want to do.”

Senior quarterback Andrew Huck was Butler’s offensive MVP in 2009 when the Bulldogs won a school record 11 games, were PFL co-champions and picked up the first postseason victory in school history.

That season, Watkins led the Bulldogs in receiving and scoring while garnering first-team All-PFL honors. His 78 receptions were a league best.

“[Watkins] and I have built quite a rapport over the past four years,” Huck said. “A lot of our success has to do with communicating and making adjustments in the game. It’s definitely a relationship where we both have a lot of trust.”

Bulldog fans and players alike are hoping the chemistry and trust Watkins and Huck have developed will equate to Butler victories.

When asked if the 2-2 Bulldogs still have a shot to win the conference title, Watkins was confident.

“Oh yeah,” Watkins said. “Definitely.”

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