Laney's Kenjaun Watkins beating odds to play football again

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Football has been part of Kenjaun Watkins' life since the fifth grade.

He grew up playing Pop Warner football, and had dreams of playing for the varsity team at Laney High School.

As a freshman, Watkins played junior varsity for the Buccaneers, and he hoped to impress the coaches during spring football.

Instead, he found himself making doctor visits, trying to find answers.

Prior to taking the physical that would allow him to play spring football, Watkins was running around with his friends, and wasn't cleared.

Days later, he went to his family doctor, who recommended that he see a specialist.

Shortly after, Watkins was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes heart muscle cells to enlarge and the walls of the ventricles to thicken. It probably should have ended Watkins' football career.

"The doctor said he didn't want me to stop living, but that I was going to have to be a couch potato," Watkins said. "That was the first time I had heard that in my life."

That wasn't the message the active teenager wanted to hear, and Watkins had no plans of just sitting down and letting his life pass him by.

"I learned how to live without sports, and learned that sports isn't everything," Watkins said.  "I tried new things, and got myself a job, and I love my job."

Even though he wouldn't be able to play, Watkins' coaches and teammates wanted to make sure he was still a member of the Buccaneers.

"We ended up pulling him aside in the hallway and talking to him and telling him that we wanted him to be part of this thing," Laney coach Ashaad Yeoman said.  "It's just a testament to him. He has a love for the game."

Watkins made the most of his time not playing football. He hit the books, and was able to do things he never thought possible.

"My academics went up. I was taking classes that I never thought I would be taking before," Watkins said. "It just brought confidence to me that I could do things other than football."

He also volunteered, hosting events to raise awareness to conditions like his.

"I had two heart walks two years in a row," Watkins said. "Football players came out. A couple of my teachers came out. Friends and family came out. I had a heart fashion show. ... They made the most of the situation, and stuck by my side."

For almost the next two years he continued to do everything his doctors told him to do. Then came some unexpected news.

"I went to my doctor, and I kept up. I just took care of my body," Watkins said. "I ate healthy and rested, and six months later at the last doctor's visit, they cleared me. They released me. They found enough information to let me go out and get a second chance."

He beat the odds, and is playing high school football again.

"I am that one in a million," Watkins said. "I did my research and I couldn't find another athlete with it, but I did look around for a lot of side effects to it, a lot of treatments, alternatives, and none of them had me getting back to play. I am one in a million."

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