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Drafted as the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Sammy Watkins was a top-rated wide receiver from a top football school—Clemson University. Growing up in Fort Myers, Florida, Watkins was a star from the beginning, playing eight 100-yard receiving games in his high school senior year season alone.
In Fort Myers, Watkins experienced a tough upbringing, and was exposed to gangs and violence from a very early age. Though despite a challenging environment, Watkins had supportive family and coaches who nurtured his talent for football.
That talent easily translated to his time at Clemson, where he broke 11 school freshman records, in addition to leading the nation in reception yards per game and touchdowns. Watkins was on top of the world, and became both a campus and national celebrity as a result.
In lieu of his senior season at Clemson, Watkins declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Buffalo Bills. He signed a multimillion-dollar contract that included a signing bonus of $12.8 million.
To the world, Watkins was flying high, as one of the most sought-after players in professional football. Though for Watkins, then just 20 years old, fame and fortune brought other issues into his life.
In an in-depth interview with Bleacher Report, Watkins recently revealed that his early days spent with the Bills were fueled by alcohol and other substances. He stated that he partied nightly, and that “every night” meant he would be consuming alcohol or marijuana.
He called it “living fast.”
He went on to say that he would drink until the early hours of the morning before practice, and that he struggled with depression related to consistent injuries that plagued him in his first season, which included a calf injury that left him on the sidelines for the first three games of the season.
Watkins famously took to social media during this time, lashing out at fans who criticized him for missing games due to injury. He eventually backpedaled, issuing an online apology before her returned to the game. He finished the season with a stellar performance in the final six games.
Although he had found great athletic success, Watkins’ battles with injury were far from over. In 2016, he broke a bone in his foot, leading to surgery, which then placed him on the injured reserve list. It was around this time that Watkins also learned that his brother, Jari McMiller, had a warrant out for his arrest in Florida—related to gang activity.
In his interview with Bleacher Report, Watkins stated that, “I was fighting a war outside of football. […] I went home into that dark place and was like: ‘F***. My whole life is in shambles.’”
His time with the Buffalo Bills ended later that year, when he was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
After one season with the Rams, Watkins found a new home on the Kansas City Chiefs, where he signed a three-year contract starting in 2018. The Chiefs went on, of course, to win Super Bowl LVI against the San Francisco 49ers, with Watkins playing a starring role.
From struggling in his early days in the NFL, to earning his first Super Bowl ring, Watkins is now opening up about the journey it took him to get here.
While Watkins’ future with the Chiefs looks uncertain as of right now, one thing is for sure—his story provides hope to those who are struggling with depression and substance abuse. As we overcome circumstances in our lives, we learn the power of resilience—and the power of knowing that we are not alone in the fight.
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