WHEELING, W.Va. - The long and winding road for Malique Watkins ended with the Martinsburg senior standing on the 10-yard line at the south end of Wheeling Island Stadium, wearing a smile.
Watkins was named Martinsburg's Most Valuable Player in the Bulldogs' 9-7 win over Huntington in the Class AAA state championship game Saturday. It was a bigger win, however, that added emphasis to Watkins' happiness in guiding his team to an unprecedented fourth consecutive state title.
"Oh, man. All this work, it feels so good," Watkins said. "It feels so, so good. All that BS that I went through, it just feels good.
"It was worth it."
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Watkins was the subject of lengthy eligibility case that ran throughout the 2013 season. Martinsburg coach Dave Walker held him out of the team's season opener against H.D. Woodson (D.C.), and he later sat out a win against Spring Mills just before his eligibility was finally verified by the Secondary School Activities Commission a week later, on Oct. 18.
Watkins' eligibility was in question for nearly two months, and therefore any of the four games Martinsburg won with him in the lineup were subject to forfeit if he had been ruled ineligible.
When Martinsburg took the field Saturday looking to topple a fourth Mountain State Athletic Conference opponent in as many playoff weeks, it again looked like something might take Watkins out of the mix. He turned his left ankle on Martinsburg's first offensive series and hobbled to the sideline as the Bulldogs lined up to punt.
"I sprained it early in the first quarter and I was mad about that," he said. "[Our trainer] taped it up but I was running on sheer adrenaline. This was the last high school game I was going to play, so I wasn't coming out. I was going to play regardless."