Fulfilling a dream, Liberty County High School baseball player Joe Watkins, penned his named to a scholarship Wednesday, making it likely the Panther will be a Georgia Southern Eagle next year.
The signing ceremony was at the high school’s media center on the NCAA’s early signing day.
Watkins starting seeing playing time under former Panther coach Steve Cotrell as an eighth grader in summer ball and made an impact on the mound, earning him rotation time on the varsity squad as a freshman.
As a sophomore and junior Watkins shined on the mound; and last year he was named to the 3-AAA All-Region team. Over the summer he was selected to the Georgia Dugout Club’s top 100 underclassmen team. Working hard to make his dream a reality Watkins traveled to different college camps vying for the attention of a college scout.
Apparently Watkins caught the Eagles’ eye.
Watkins will be joining an Eagle squad, which went 34-24 overall last season. The Eagles were the Southern Conference Champions in 2009, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1997, 1996 and 1993. They are also the winners of 12 NCAA Regional games.
“I’m proud of Joe. He’s worked hard for this,” father Pat Watkins said. “He, his mother, who motivated him, and all the guys – and a couple gals – who coached him over the years, deserve the credit.”
The player said he chose GSU because it was close enough to be able to visit his parents, yet far enough away to be independent.
“Also they have an extremely good baseball team and I am ready to be a part of it,” he said beaming with a smile. “I’m ready to help them out.”
Watkins will be guided by Eagles second year pitching coach B.J. Green, but the senior said he hopes to begin work on the Eagles’ mound immediately.
“I’m going to come in for my freshman year probably as a reliever so I’ll be getting some time (on the mound),” he said. “Then hopefully after that I can show them that I am good enough to be in the starting rotation.”
Watkins’ mother, Jan Williams, credited all of Watkins’ former and current coaches. She said former Panther coach Cotrell had faith in Watkins’ abilities and gave the youngster an opportunity to play as an eighth grader in summer ball. Williams said Southeastern Athletics baseball coaches Keith Real and Stacey Bennett, who is now coach at Richmond Hill, took the time to make sure Watkins had the exposure necessary to catch the attention of college scouts. Chain coach Adam Kitchins was credited by Williams for recognizing his pitching talent and recommending he play on a team.
“I want to thank his present high school coaches, coach (David) Samuel and coach (Zach) Duncan for working with him during his wonderful teen years, building character and stamina on the mound. And last but not least coach Mike Wells, all of Joe’s buddies, teachers, friends and parents of friends who have given Joe encouragement to reach his goal to be a pitcher.”
Watkins echoed Williams’ statement, saying all his coaches have brought him to where he is today and added it was a long tough road.
“I’ve worked hard. I’ve started weight training and I started just pushing it,” he said. “Making sure I could get everything I could out of it. If you want it, you have to go for it.”
”Joe will fit well there because he is one of the best pitchers in the region,” Panther coach David Samuel said. “He has done a really good job for me in the last two years and I’m looking forward to the third. He’s got great potential and just being able to go to a Division I school, that’s just going to help him build. Hopefully he will work harder and become better and we’ll see what happens from there.”
“I do ultimately believe that Joe is self motivated in reaching his goals to sign with a Division 1 school but there are several people who I would like to thank for this success,” his mother said.
Watkins admitted his parents were extremely happy to see this day come.
“They are happier than I am,” he said laughing. “I’m extremely happy but my mom has been there with me through everything and this is what she wanted to see her whole entire life, and I’m glad she finally got to see it. And she is ecstatic.”
With one dream coming to fruition Watkins said making the pros and playing for the Braves is now his next goal.
“I’m going to keep going. This isn’t where it stops,” he said. “This is just a stepping stone.”