As a true freshman at Baylor, some late-arriving junior college transfers scuttled his plans to play right away. When he got to Jacksonville State, he found himself behind an established veteran.
The wait is finally over, and the junior defensive tackle is fulfilling his high potential and expectations.
“I had to fit the program, so I had to basically wait in line,” Watson said. “This year, I’ve got a big chance to do a lot of things for my team.
“I’ve got a lot of trust from the coaches. I’m not saying coach (Jack) Crowe and those guys didn’t trust me, (but) I’m one of the older guys on the team now. I’ve got to be that leader they want me to be.”
Watson showed that leadership in the second half of last week’s road win at Tennessee-Martin.
He was admonished on the sideline after a somewhat suspect third-down roughing-the-passer penalty that extended an eventual UTM touchdown drive. He pleaded his case — which the film later supported — and instead of retreating into a shell, the next time he got in the game he sacked Skyhawks’ quarterback Dylan Favre for a 12-yard loss.
“That’s the mark of a good player,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “He can take coaching.”
Watson came to JSU looking for a chance to play.
He thought it was going to happen at Baylor, but the Bears hired a new defensive coordinator who committed to playing some JUCO transfers and Watson was relegated to the scout team.
He remembered how hard JSU recruited him in high school and played that card, but once he arrived on campus he found himself behind Jamison Wadley. He didn’t play for the Gamecocks until 2012.
“Once I came here I wanted to do a lot of things,” Watson said. “It’s kind of hard coming from the Big 12 to all the way down to Division I-AA; expectations are high and I planned to do a lot of things. I was still young. I had to wait my turn.
“Jamison Wadley was the man and I had to wait my time to get there. It was kind of hard to think about it then, it hurt me. I felt like why did I come this far not to play? But I had to understand … I had to play my role and what my job was to do.”
Watson played eight games last year, making 12 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. Through the first six games this season — four starts — he has 17 tackles and two sacks.
One of Clark’s biggest concerns when getting a transfer from a high-profile program is the way the player is going to be accepted by his new teammates.
That apparently wasn’t a problem for Watson.
“It’s all about your attitude,” he said. “When I was at Baylor there were a lot of individuals. When you’re at those big schools you’ve got a lot of individuals around there, but when I came here, I got so close.
“You have those guys who come to smaller school who think they’re big time or whatever, but once they really get involved and show you’re not as good as you think you are, it shows. You connect.”
The one year at Baylor did do two things for Watson. It gave him a leg up on playing the up-tempo offenses Jax State was going to see in the Ohio Valley Conference and it gave him direct access to a future Heisman Trophy winner.
Watson described Robert Griffin III as a “real good guy,” who wasn’t above talking to and encouraging younger players like himself.
He said Griffin ran the offense “like perfect” and it was his job in practice to chase him down.
One day Watson got a little too aggressive and learned a lesson about hitting the face of the program.
Eastern Illinois head coach Dino Babers was an assistant at Baylor at the time. He recalls Watson’s name, but nothing about the player or details about the incident in practice.
“I promise you if you blew up RG3 in practice you would have gotten some reaction,” Babers said.
Now, Watson now only tags quarterbacks wearing the other team’s colors.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.