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Future USC Trojan Zach Banner A Finalist For Watkins Award

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Watkins 2012

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Rahshaun Haylock (CBS) – If you’ve never heard of the Watkins Award, I strongly suggest you introduce yourself.

The Watkins Awards were initiated in 1992 by the National Alliance of African American Athletes. Last Saturday marked the 21st Watkins Awards Trophy Presentation, in a ceremony held downtown at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

The Watkins Award honors the top African American student athletes in the nation.

The finalists are chosen based on their unweighted grade point average, personal statements, extracurricular activities, community service, and letters of recommendation.

Millbrook (North Carolina) running back Keith Marshall took the honors.

Marshall is an early enrollee at the University of Georgia. The other finalists were future USC Trojan Zach Banner, Alexander Carter of Ashburn, Virginia, Jonathan Curry of Phenix City, Alabama, Orange Lutheran’s Deion Williams, and Jameis Winston of Birmingham, Alabama.

I, like some of you, had never heard of it, until a couple of years ago. I was at the State Bowl Games at Home Depot Center and approached by a local photographer, Eric Wade, telling me about the awards and that I should attend.

Due to scheduling conflicts I was unable to make it the last couple of years. This year I was able to attend and humbled by the Alliance to be asked to co-host the event with the talented, Claudia Jordan.

The experience was impeccable. It was more than just an Awards show on Saturday night. It was an eventful weekend.

There was a reception held downtown at L.A. Live on Friday. Saturday morning there was a football clinic that brought out 250 kids to work out with current NFL pros.

This was followed by a press conference and red carpet event that preceded the awards ceremony.
Some of the NFL’s finest are alumni of this prestigious award.

Those that were in attendance on Saturday night include Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohammed Massaquoi, Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Justin Blalock, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. McCoy’s teammate with the Buccaneers, Arrelious Benn, is also an alum.

As well as San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
Also in attendance, and representing the city of Los Angeles were congresswoman Maxine Waters and councilwoman Jan Perry. Journalist, Stephen A. Smith, served as the keynote speaker.

When announcing the 2012 winner of the Watkins Award, Dr. Alexander Gabbin, who is the chairman of the Watkins Award Selection Committee, refused to refer to the recipient as the “winner.” He instead said that person –Marshall in this case –would be the “torch bearer” for the 2012 class.

That’s what stood out to me the most.

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious award in college football. The winners of that trophy are a part of the Heisman fraternity for life. The losers we barely know of.

With the Watkins, once you’re a finalist, you’re a part of the Watkins family forever. Each finalist receives a ring and a plaque for their efforts. As evidenced by the alumni in attendance on Saturday night, they remain a part of Watkins.

I think former Orange Lutheran head coach Jim Kunau said it best when talking about his player, Deion Williams. Kunau said “I’m sure I’ll never know anyone like that again.”

In covering Williams, he is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever come across in life.

Kunau can make the same statement about all six finalists. Despite their tremendous accolades on the football field, at such a young age, they are all tremendous people of high character.

It’s great to see athletes celebrated for things they’ve done away from the field. Even better is, as Angelenos, it’s happened right in our own backyard.

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