Tom Watkins joins teammate Dwight Nichols as the second member of the famed 1959 “Dirty Thirty” Iowa State football team to be inducted in to the ISU Athletic Hall of Fame. Watkins was the perfect running back for Clay Stapleton’s single-wing attack, racking up 1,605 yards in his three-year (1958-60) Cyclone career.
A native of West Memphis, Ark., Watkins earned the first of his two first-team All-Big Eight selections during the 1959 season, leading the team in rushing with 843 yards on the ground, the second highest total in the NCAA that season.
As a senior in 1960, Watkins was a first-team all-league pick and earned All-America honors after rushing for 688 yards and 10 touchdowns for a team that finished 7-3 overall. He ranked 12th in the nation in rushing yardage in 1960 and his 10 touchdowns broke the single season school record. He was invited to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, Hula Bowl and the All-American Bowl following his senior campaign and was honored as ISU’s Athlete of the Year.
Watkins continued his football career after graduation, finding his niche as a dependable running back and punt and kickoff returner for three teams (Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers) in the NFL. Watkins played seven seasons in the NFL totaling 1,792 yards rushing, 590 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns. Watkins was utilized primarily as a return specialist, racking up 970 yards in punt returns and 2,510 yards in kickoff returns. He led the league twice in punt return yardage (1963, 1964) and once in kickoff return yardage (1965) as a member of the Lions. He ran back three punts for touchdowns in his NFL career.