By Mark F. Gray
For 30 years the National Alliance of African American Athletes has created a movement amongst young high school football talent who buy into being a part of the legacy where they are a part of a fraternity of exceptional athletes who are committed to servicing their communities.
Their signature event is the Watkins Award Banquet where The Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Award is presented to the best African American high school football player in the nation. Five finalists from around the country will be honored this week at the Hilton Hotel in Crystal City, VA with one earning the Watkins Award, which is the equivalent to the high school football Heisman Trophy for Black Athletes.
“The Watkins Award Class of 2019 features an incredible collection of fine student-athletes,” said J. Everette Pearsall, executive director of The Alliance. “Each of these young men are well equipped for success academically. We continue to recognize and honor the premier African American Scholar Athletes in the United States.”
Five finalists from across the country will attend the gala, when this year’s standard bearer will be announced to cap a weekend of celebration where the alumni who has impacted major college football and the NFL reconnect for a weekend of fellowship that is unique to sports.
Normally if an athlete is nominated for an award and doesn’t win the only bond is between the winner and those who have preceded him. However, with the Watkins Award, once you’re a finalist you’ve become a lifelong member of this athletic fraternity even when the trophy goes home with another athlete.
The finalists for the Watkins Award have traditionally been some of the most decorated high school student-athletes in the nation. They are mostly blue chip players who have received countless awards while operating under the media spotlight of being a talented athlete who earns a share of celebrity. Since an early age most have been the focus of college recruiters while performing well on the field.
However, the Watkins award is different. It is based on more than just athletic performance and statistics. The premise behind the award is to honor the spirit of the student-athlete who makes a difference in the classroom and community while competing at a high level. Most of the athletes who enjoy the festivities in the D.M.V. have never visited the Nation’s Capital which only adds to the lure of the event.
The list of NFL Players who are Watkins alumni are some of the rising stars of the game. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is a former winner. Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reed, who joined Colin Kaepernick’s protest when they were teammates with The San Francisco 49 ‘ers, is among recent nominees also. Former Bullis and Ohio State QB Dwayne Hoskins, who is projected to be one of the first two taken in this year’s NFL Draft, was also nominated in 2016.
This year’s emcee will be ESPN football analyst and former NFL defensive back for Washington’s franchise Ryan Clark, who won a Super Bowl while playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ric “Doc” Walker, Super Bowl champion with Washington, will host the red carpet.
The Watkins Class of 2019 includes Jaylen Coleman from Porter Ridge HS in Charlotte, N.C., who signed with Duke. Nakobe Dean of Horn Lake HS in Horn Lake, Miss. and is enrolled at Georgia. Aeneas DiCosmo, who played for Bergen Catholic HS in Montclair, N.J. and Elijah Higgins, of John Bowie HS in Austin, Texas who signed with Stanford. Roschon Johnson of Port Neches-Groves HS in Port Neches has already enrolled at Texas.