After being selected fourth overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 NFL Draft, wide receiver Sammy Watkins knew he’d have some adapting to do.
For starters, the weather would be way different for Watkins, who grew up in Florida and went to college in South Carolina. Then of course he had to adjust his game to meet the demands of the pro level.
Watkins not only adapted, but thrived, setting new Bills rookie records for total receptions (65) and receiving yards (982) in a season.
STACK caught up with Watkins at the launch of the adidas Ultra Boost running shoe in New York City, where, among other things, he spoke about his first season in the NFL and his goals for the year ahead.
STACK: What was the biggest adjustment for you this past year?
Watkins: It’s hard to say. In the NFL, it’s a self-motivated sport. It’s not like college or high school, where you’re all together with your brothers and it’s all “let’s go.” Now it’s more like you’re talking to yourself. The coach isn’t as hyped up like in college. He’s more laid back, professional.
We all have different lives and families. This guy’s 35, that one is 21. At the end of the day, the team’s going to come together, Bills on three. But at the same time, it’s like, “Do your job, don’t worry about anyone else’s job,” and that’s it. So I guess I learned to separate myself in a professional way, and to motivate myself even more.
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What was the most important thing you learned in your rookie season?
I’m more focused on taking care of my body. It’s easy to break yourself down and then it’s hard to get back up. That’s what happened this year. I was doing so much and I was getting pulled in so many different ways that I wasn’t focusing on my body any more and I hit a wall. My body basically started breaking down. I started getting little injuries here and little injuries there.
Now, I do just about anything to take care of my body. Staying hydrated, cold tubbing, going to see the chiropractor and getting acupuncture—whatever it takes to work on my body, reform and reset my muscles. All that stuff is going to make a difference later in the season, 12 or 15 games in.
How do you find the cold Buffalo weather?
I hate it. Honestly, I’m a Florida guy, so I can’t deal with the cold. It can be kind of hard to get myself started in the morning, but once I’m up and going I’m all right and I attack the day.
What was it like growing up with a brother who played football, and who is now also in the NFL? Do you keep each other motivated?
It’s actually really fun. It might even make things easier for us. He plays the opposite position of me, so I learned things from him, and he learned things from me.
We both will text each other before games: “hey, go kill that guy, go out and have a great game.”
My brother and I trained together throughout high school and then, in college, in the off-season, we trained together. Now we’ll hang out when we’re home together because we don’t have time to be with each other during the season.
It’s different things you have to balance in the off-season. For me, it’s family time and about giving back to the community. I mean, you go back and people look at you like you’re a star and you got money. Well, I tell ’em I don’t want you to look at me like that. I’m still the same guy. Call me the same funny names you used to call me.
What is your main focus for the off-season?
Honestly, I’m a rest kind of guy. The season is brutal, so you gotta get a lot of rest along with the proper amount of training. Right now, I’m resting up. In the next two months or so, I’m going to go down to Arizona with a bunch of guys to train, get better and prepare to have a great next season.
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You seem extremely centered. You must have at least one goal for physical progression
One thing that I definitely need to work on, that I have to work on, is flexibility. It plays a big part with your whole body. You feel much better when you’re stretched out and ready. You play better and can eliminate those little nagging injuries.
Being flexible can take you a long way in the NFL. Especially if you’re trying to play 10 or 12 years, you need flexibility. Because everything is going to catch up with you a few years down the line as you get older.
Also, I want to really strengthen my back, core and hips—those three pretty much control everything else in your body. So those are the things I know I need to do.
What do you normally look for in a sneaker?
I’m really serious about my shoes. I’m all about feeling balanced and being comfortable. Something basic that I can throw on with some jeans and a nice shirt and look nice. And they gotta look nice, not all crazy looking. People are like, “Why don’t you get the crazy shoes that come out?” And I’m like, “I’m not really ’bout nothing crazy. I just need something so I can get in the work I need to get in, made for me to train in, and I can also just walk around in and feel comfortable.”
What are your thoughts about the new adidas Ultra Boost?
You can do just about anything in this shoe. It’s made for war—no, just playing. There’re so many different technologies out there, but for me it comes down to it being light and flexible, and eliminating any extra movement, because in my profession, you can’t waste movement.
What’s something else people might assume about you—like with the crazy shoes—that you want to set straight?
Well, I’m kind of quiet. They might look to me to do all that rah-rah stuff in the locker room, but I don’t do all that. Before a game, that’s just wasting my energy. I gotta do that on the field.
What about after the game?
After the game, I’m passionate. I go crazy even after a loss. My teammates will know I’m mad. But I guess it depends. Either way, I have to balance my emotions.
What kind of music do you use to get motivated?
Anything that’s hype music. You got Drake, you got Lil’ Wayne, J.Cole, Wale. I listen to everybody and try to make myself angry. Or not even—just talk to myself and talk myself up.
How do you stay fueled up?
I’m constantly eating. I gotta eat five to six times a day. You feel weaker if you don’t eat. So I’m a big snacker—not that much at a time, but I always need to have a snack and stay hydrated with a bottle of water or a Gatorade. Just about anything to make you feel better and perform better, that’s what you need to do. With food, you have to always have a plan in place so you can do what you gotta do on the field.
How has your training in the weight room changed over the years?
I’m not really a lifting weights guy. I did that in the early stage of my life, but that’s no good when you get older, on your knees and on your body. It takes a toll.
I definitely got bigger and stronger, but at the same time your body is made for you. And you don’t want to get outside your body. I did one year in college and my season was not what I expected it to be. I got too big and too muscley. I was stiff and I was sluggish.
I love to run and to train physically instead of lifting weights. I mean, you gotta lift some weights, but I’m not that big guy who’s gonna go for the 60-pound dumbbells. I’m more of a resistance guy, using bands and stretching, more about training for balance and for explosiveness with cords and stuff like that. Or flipping stuff.