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University of Tennessee QB Josh Dobbs (holding trophy) won the Watkins Award as the nation’s top African American high school student athlete in 2013 with his parents (left) and Everette Pearsall (right) of the National Alliance of African American Athletes. (Photo courtesy of NAAAA)

In that insulated fraternity of the National Football League there’s a bond amongst a group of Black players forged by their experiences as elite high school athletes who have received the Franklin Watkins Memorial Award from the National Alliance of African American Athletes.

The Franklin Watkins Memorial Award has become the equivalent to the Heisman Trophy for Black high school athletes around the country. It has come to personify the balance of athletic excellence, leadership, and academic achievement for several high profle players. Several current NFL stars are alumni of the Watkins Award and have used this platform as a springboard to careers on and off the feld.

“The Watkins Award has become the most coveted award for African American seniors around the country,” said Everett Pearsall, Executive Director of The National Alliance of African American Athletes. “It boggles my mind every year how many kids in small towns recognize the names of some of the ”.

“It helps me represent what I hope to be my soldiers of the future”.

Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is the highest profle of the Watkins Award winners playing in the NFL right now. Winston won the award in 2011 and went to Florida State where he won a national championship and the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top college football player in 2013. Winston has been a model citizen in the NFL after some legal mishaps in his early days in Tallahassee.

“This is the elite of the elite,” Winston said. “It’s always important to persevere academically and achieve great things when you come out of the kind of community like I do. That’s our mission in the Watkins family, strive to be the best.”

The DC/Baltimore area has been prominently represented throughout the Watkins Award’s history. Former Good Counsel high school standout Jelani Jenkins was a fnalist in 2009 and currently plays for the Miami Dolphins. Former Washington football team linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was a fnalist in 2001 as was former Baltimore Raven Darnell Dinkins in 1995.

However, the success of the Watkins Award alumni on the feld pales in comparison to what many are doing off it. Former Florida State Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle personifes what the Alliance was trying to achieve 25 years ago when the award was established. During his senior year Rolle few from London to play a game at the University of Maryland on the same evening following his interview with the Rhodes committee.

Rolle earned the Rhodes scholarship and was able to study his true passion – medicine – at Oxford. However, the decision cost Rolle millions of NFL dollars as he took the 2009 season off to pursue his studies. It scared some NFL teams that he was more passionate about medicine than he was football so he wasn’t drafted until the sixth round in 2010. But with no regrets Rolle has retired and continues his quest to become a neurosurgeon in medical school at Florida State.

That next generation’s committed scholar athlete is Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs. Dobbs currently has a 4.0 GPA and plays in the SEC while majoring in aerospace engineering. He is considered a Heisman candidate next year.

Success of the Watkins alumni in the classroom and professionally is not by accident. The NAAAA has year round college preparatory and mentorship programs that prepare athletes for their education as student athletes. A free SAT program for all high school students (athletes or not) is also available around the country to develop strategies for taking the test.

The Watkins Award will take place in Washington, D.C. March 11-13. This year’s banquet is March 12 at the Renaissance Hotel.