Ben Watkins transitions from player to coach and mentor.

Junior Ben Watkins learned about computer science on the home front. “It’s a family business,” he says. “Both my brother and father work in that field, so it seemed like a natural decision to make as far as a major.”

At CNU Watkins balances academic pursuits with his No. 1 passion, basketball. “I played a year here up until I suffered my seventh concussion in two years. For a few days I debated whether or not I still wanted to be a part of [college basketball],” he says. “Eventually, I came to the realization that I was brought here to serve the program. I felt a certain amount of duty to my teammates, my brothers. And my coach had put a lot of time and effort into me. It was the right thing to do, to stay and help in any way I could.”

Transitioning from player to assistant coach, Watkins also makes an impact in the community, participating in the CNU-affiliated mentoring program Students, Leaders, Athletes and Mentors (SLAM). It’s geared toward at-risk fifth-graders in local elementary schools. Meeting with students nine weeks out of the semester, Watkins and other mentors share life lessons and effective coping strategies. They do so by employing sports analogies, including one Watkins calls his personal mantra.

“We have a saying called ‘make the next play.’ In basketball, if you mess up or miss a shot, there’s no point in putting your head down, because you’ve got to get back on defense, you’ve got to make the next transition, you’ve got to do whatever you need to do,” he says. “So ‘make the next play’ can carry over into your regular life. For instance, I had to retire. I had to ‘make the next play,’ and the next play was being a student assistant; the next play was getting over it and getting back to work. It has stuck with me, and I try to live it out.”

Living it out is what he continues to do, not only with SLAM, but also through a volunteer coaching position on a church team. “I’m thankful for the blessings I’ve been afforded, and I want to pass on what I have to those who potentially need guidance or help. That’s another reason I’ve wanted to stay with coaching – to impart what I have to offer, to live a life of significance,” he says. “I’m still trying to figure out if I want to just coach high school on the side of a computer consulting/analyzing business or go full-fledge and make a career out of college coaching.”

Watkins credits CNU with inspiring his career aspirations and service work. “There is a lot of positivity; a lot of people have your back here,” he notes. Watkins originally planned to attend another school but changed his mind after visiting Christopher Newport. “Just the feeling on this campus was different than any other I had previously visited. So I pulled out of the other school and became a Captain.” —Lauren Austill ’14

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