Charity game hits close to home for Notre Dame CB Nick Watkins

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Nick Watkins admits he’s a little sketchy when it comes to the nuances of softball, let alone at what position he projects defensively.

But you couldn’t keep the Notre Dame senior cornerback away from Four Winds Field on Sunday, when he’ll be playing somewhere — and ad-libbing as he goes along — in the Football & Force Charity Softball Game.

Actually, it will be three, three-inning games, with the Notre Dame football players and coaches taking on three branches of local law enforcement to benefit Indiana C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors).

C.O.P.S. provides resources to assist in the rebuilding of the lives of surviving families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Tickets are $5 for adults, free for children under 12. Parking is $5.

The South Bend Cubs Fun Zone will be open to fans. The games start at 4 p.m., with gates opening at 3.

“I didn’t play baseball or softball at all growing up,” said Watkins, a DeSoto, Texas, product. “I don’t even know who the good softball players on our team are, but everybody claims to be good. Everybody says they’re going to hit a home run. We’ll see when the lights come on.”

The Notre Dame veteran players returned to campus this week for two weeks of 4-for-40 community service activities and the start of summer football conditioning. The freshman class will join them when formal classes begin in a little less than two weeks.

Watkins’ strong affinity for law enforcement comes from that fact that his father, Bobby Watkins Sr., has been a police officer for the city of Dallas for more than 25 years, transitioning to that profession after a successful NFL career as a cornerback for the Detroit Lions.

“I never thought about the dangers of his job growing up, and he didn’t bring that home,’ Watkins said. “It was just kind of like, ‘Dad’s just going to work.’ But as of late, it gets scary, because of something that happened in Dallas with a shooter.”

Last July, in fact, a sniper gunned down four of the elder Watkins’ colleagues and a Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer. He also injured seven other police officers as well as two civilians. The shootings came at the end of what had been a peaceful protest march focused on violence committed by officers around the country.

“You’ve just got to get to know police officers,” Watkins said of the heightened tensions of the past couple of years. “Obviously, you can’t change some police officers’ backgrounds, but you’re going to need police.

“That trust factor is hard after the last few years. You don’t know what’s going to happen if you get pulled over or anything like that. So, I think the whole thing is trusting you’re going to be OK.”

Fans will have a chance to get to meet members of Notre Dame Police and Security as well as officers from South Bend, Mishawaka, St. Joseph County and the Indiana State Police. Irish players and coaches will also be interacting with fans throughout the games.

The idea for the event came from former Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus, currently the director of player development for ND football.

Indiana C.O.P.S. was an easy choice for the event’s beneficiary.

“It helps survivors in their rebuilding process, and trying to establish some normalcy to their life after they’ve had a traumatic loss,” said South Bend police Lt. Gene Eyster, the Northwest liaison for the organization.

“We provide financial support, psychological support, education, mentoring other officers. What we’re saying is, ‘You now belong to the largest family you’d ever want to belong to.’ Because we’re there for them, not just at the time of their loss, but forever.”

Cornerback Nick Watkins. whose father is a Dallas Police officer, will be one of many Notre Dame football players facing area law enforcement in a charity softball event, Sunday at Four Winds Field. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)