The first time Dareian Watkins was taken by children’s services, he was five years old and was found eating from trash cans.
That is simply the beginning of an incredible story that has brought him from abused and neglected to football star at Galion High School in Galion, Ohio, with college scholarships being offered his way.
Dareian Watkins was taken from his biological mother as a young boy. (Photo by Jack Lyman)
The story begins painfully, but through years of struggle, persistence and faith, and with the help of good people, it is headed full speed towards a happy ending. Dareian was adopted at 11 years old by Heath and Cheryl Watkins. He calls it the second biggest day of his life. The biggest is the day he was taken from his biological mother.
“I was at school and I got called down to the office,” Dareian said. “Thinking I was in trouble, I took my time. I saw a lady walk out of the office towards me and I didn't know what was going on. They had told me to go straight home after school and say bye to my mom. I didn't think anything of it. I got there and my mom was crying and I hugged her, then they pulled me away and said we had to go.”
That is one of the episodes Dareian remembers, as only bits and pieces of his past come back to him. In second grade, his teacher found burn marks on his legs left by cigarettes. The earliest he remembers being drugged by his own biological father is four. He has spent nights on the street and in dumpsters.
“Dareian blocks out much of the past,” Heath says, “but it does come back in flashes. Now it serves as motivation for him to become the best at what he does. He uses it to understand how other people feel. Most importantly, he uses it as a part of God’s plan for his life.”
Heath and Cheryl Watkins talked about adopting children almost as soon as they met and began dating. They now have three biological children, Dareian, and a God son who is currently on the Galion team as well.
While they had the idea of adoption for some time, the Watkins say they procrastinated. After 14 years, one adoption pamphlet came in the mail that changed everything. Heath says the picture of the boy on the cover with the line “he needs a father figure to complete him” was the catalyst. They began scheduling adoption classes the next day.
When the head of children’s services told them they had an 11-year-old boy who would fit their family unit perfectly, Heath and Cheryl declined. They wanted a boy between the ages of two and five. But after much pleading from children’s services, they agreed to meet the boy. Much to Heath’s surprise, the boy was the same one from the front of the pamphlet. His name was Dareian.
At Galion High School, Dareian has found great success on the football field. (Photo by Bill Greene)
“It was Dareian that I saw in the pamphlet from Richland County who prompted me to stop the procrastination,” Heath said. “Dareian had moved to Crawford County and was the same boy that Sue had felt was a perfect fit for our family. Cheryl and I were deeply moved by the impossible coincidences that brought us together. That night we took Dareian to Pizza Hut for dinner and some conversation. We then called Sue to extend our visit because we decided that we should take Dareian home to meet our other children. Late that night Cheryl and I excused ourselves from the kids to go outside and talk privately. I remember us both crying tears of joy because we knew that Dareian was our son and we didn’t have to think it over.”
The adoption process usually takes time. In this case, children’s services offered to expedite the request so Dareian could join his new family in one month. That was not good enough. The Watkins’ convinced them to place Dareian with them as a respite situation. He joined his parents, sisters Jocelyn and Cady, and brother Christian.
“The early years were wonderful but rough,” Heath explained. “Dareian had been severely neglected and abused during his first eight years of life. We spent a lot of days in counseling, mostly myself and Dareian together. He would go weeks without even speaking in the sessions. He was also suspended from school multiple times during his first year with us for a wide variety of disciplinary issues. We never considered giving up on Dareian because we could see a great person that had endured so much, yet it never broke his spirits. We knew if we could harness that resilience that got Dareian through his past he would be able to accomplish anything.”
Heath and Cheryl decided sports was a good way to teach Dareian some of the self discipline he lacked in those early days. As an avid football fan, Heath decided that was the right one. After one practice, Dareian wanted to quit.
“He said, ‘Dad, I quit! The coach doesn’t like me and I hate football,’” Heath said. “I asked him how he could say that after one practice and Dareian responded with, ‘The coach just yells at me and makes me run and do pushups.’ I asked if he made the other kids do it too. Dareian said yes. I told him his coach was doing a great job! It was the battle of wills between Dareian and I until the final play of his first youth football game.”
In that game, Dareian scored four touchdowns. Even more important, he developed a liking for the game and by the end of that season, he was dedicating himself to the game. Fast forward to last season, and Dareian was Mr. Everything for Galion. He played receiver, quarterback, running back, safety and returned kicks. He passed for 1,256 yards and 16 touchdowns, rushed for 559 and 10 more, and now has offers from Toledo, Akron, Bowling Green, Ohio, and Illinois along with interest from Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Oregon, Wisconsin, and others.
His parents are grateful for the opportunities, but know his journey is far from over.
“When I think of how far Dareian has come I can’t help but get emotional,” Heath said. “The scholarship offers, the compliments from journalists, the honors and awards, all just overwhelms me emotionally if I allow myself much time to reflect. Instead I just focus on the future and the work at hand. I pray that this story is just beginning and the next chapter is how Dareian has inspired others and is using his life to give what he has been given, a second chance at life.”
Cario Davison is heading into his sophomore year at Galion and is already 6-foot-2, 191 pounds. He is expected to not only be one of Dareian’s top targets, but may end up being his brother as well. Davison is the Watkins’ God-son and they may soon become his legal guardians. He would fit right in.
The Watkins’ oldest daughter Jocelyn is at the University of Toledo and is the president of the gay and lesbian organization Spectrum. She is one of Dareian’s biggest supporters, and may transfer to wherever he goes to college. Younger brother Christian was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Together with Dareian and Cady, they form what Heath describes as “six broken people that make up one, strong, indivisible family,” and one that Cario is joining.
Just a junior, Dareian is already on the radar of many top programs. (Photo by Bill Greene)
More scholarship offers are likely to come Dareian’s way after this season, his junior year. Even having one was thrilling for him, and with each successive school that recognizes his talent and gives him an opportunity for an education, he becomes more and more thankful about his situation.
“I can't even describe it,” Dareian says. “I think about that all the time and just think, how in the world did I manage to get through that?”
He had a lot of help, and what Heath and Cheryl did is not lost on the young man.
“It means the world to me. They always pushed me and got on me because they knew I could do it, and them taking me in and adopting me was (a big) event of my life, and when I knew it was official I was beyond thankful.”
And they are thankful for him. Heath says he and his wife are perpetually inspired by their children, each in their own unique way. Their household, made up of unique individuals, will soon have a big-time college football player. When Dareian thinks back on where he’s been, and what’s ahead of him, he cannot help but think of other children who may be in similar situations.
“Never give up,” Dareian says. “You may not know where you’re going to end up, but it’s all going to work out in the end. It could be something totally unexpected -- mine sure was.”
It took perseverance, strength, maybe a little luck, and “a father figure to complete him.” Just like the pamphlet said.