Playoff Feature: Colton Watkinson Is The Veteran Leader This Youthful FireWolves Team Needs

Often, the best leaders in sports are the ones who have walked many miles in others shoes. Colton Watkinson is that leader for the Albany FireWolves.

At 31 years old, the FireWolves defenseman is the most senior member of the youngest team in the NLL – on opening day of the 2024 NLL Season, the FireWolves average age was a couple of months younger than 26. Watkinson is also one of the longest-tenured members of the team. He has been with the club since 2018 (the FireWolves were the New England Black Wolves at that time). Only Doug Jamieson has been with the team longer – he joined in 2017.

No one has been on the floor for more games during the FireWolves era (2022-present). Watkinson has suited up for 52 of the teams 53 contests (including their lone playoff appearance in 2022). He is also the only player in FireWolves history to record 200+ loose ball recoveries, 50+ points, 40+ caused turnovers, and 10+ blocked shots. 

For all that he has been through with his team (the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens), paired with the efforts that he has put forward to give the FireWolves their best shot at winning games, it makes sense why Watkinson proudly holds the title of Captain.

Last season, the FireWolves had a 3-15 record. It was a challenging year for the coaches, the players, and the fans. The 15 losses were tied for the second-most losses by a team in a single season in NLL history. It can be hard to bounce back from that. But, this FireWolves team, led by Watkinson, was not going to let that define who they are as a team or as an organization this season.

In one of the most remarkable turnarounds in lacrosse history, the FireWolves began this season with a 6-0 record, doubling their win total from last year in only the first two months of competition. For Watkinson and everyone affiliated with the FireWolves organization, it is a tremendous sigh of relief that they were able to produce such incredible results so quickly after their off-year.

After last year – that was tough,” Watkinson said. That was a tough year for everyone on the team. Its not like you plan on starting a year and losing that many games, so it doesnt sit right. This year, especially for the fans of this city, it feels great to give them that experience of winning.”

The 6-0 start was just the beginning of what was to come for this team. After a brief two-game losing streak immediately following that franchise-best win streak, the FireWolves rattled off four more consecutive wins to move to 10-2. Since then, however, Albanys team has been on a bit of a skid, losing their last four games. 

Sitting at 10-6, the FireWolves have clinched a spot in this years postseason, thanks, in part, to other teamslosses around the league. Nevertheless, they are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2022 and are on the precipice of clinching a home playoff game in the 2024 postseason.

Having clinched a playoff spot before April (the exact seed is yet to be determined) takes some pressure off of this young squad. Of course, they will still go out on the floor and put forth their best effort to try and secure a win, but now they can steer the focus more towards what they need to do come playoff time.

To reiterate kind of what Coach says, it takes a full season to develop a team to prepare for the playoffs,” Watkinson said. Right now, were not where we want to be, but we have all of the pieces, and weve put a lot of them together.”

Especially for the younger guys on the team, such as Tye Kurtz – lets remember that everyone on the offensive side of the ball is 26 years old or younger – having a veteran leader who is relatable, honest, and easy to talk to, goes a long way to bringing this unit together, and creates a good space for the newer guys to build their confidence. This will be invaluable when the playoffs roll around.

Hes just a great person all-around – hes a great player,” Kurtz said. He does an extremely good job at making young guys like myself, and other young guys like Alex Simmons, Nick Volvo, Zach Young, and all those young guys, making us feel like theres no separation. Theres no age difference or You cant do this because of the age you are or how many years youve been here.Hes really good at giving us young guys a voice.”

Because of the incredibly positive relationship that Watkinson has built with all of the youthful team members, he has been able to have numerous frank and educational conversations with them. Watkinson has leaned on one of the other team veterans, Anthony Joaquim, an NLL champion and coach at Saint Josephs University, to help rally and lead the boys in times of need.

After six months of playing with this group, Watkinson feels very confident that the FireWolves will be ready when they take the floor for their playoff game(s) in a couple of weeks. Its hard to doubt that belief when theyve already shown that they can battle with and defeat some of the most talented (and more experienced) teams around the league.

With the group we have, I dont think theyll be a whole lot of nerves,” Watkinson said. Obviously, its going to be a lot of the guys first playoff games, but, for us, its just continuing business as usual, continuing gamedays as usual because thats what comforts guys – its the norm.”

In fact, beyond just believing that this FireWolves team will be ready for their postseason moment, Watkinson suggested, Ill be it, cautiously, that he and the guys can surprise a few people in the postseason, just like they did at the start of this regular season. They do not believe they will be the victims of a lopsided first-round postseason loss like in 2022.

Its pro sports, so anything can happen, especially in round one, where its a one-game exit,” Watkinson said. You always have to be prepared to play – its that any given Sunday mentality, so I think we can make some noise [in the postseason]. I keep saying it: We have the talent, we have the character, we have the leadership. Its just putting all of those things together.”

This season, Watkinson has helped change the narrative in the locker room from the guys thinking they are the downtrodden of the NLL to a mindset that they have the ability to go out and win every guy if they stick to their principles and play a full 60 minutes. Having experienced playoff losses both with the FireWolves and the Black Wolves, Watkinson is preparing to help his team achieve their first playoff win since he joined the club. 

It may have seemed like a long shot that this team would be where they are right now in the unified standings (they currently sit in third place) at the start of the season, but Watkinsons ability to lead on and off the floor this season has helped put the FireWolves in this position to reach new heights. 


By Adam Levi