From JC To CWU To Walkon To Starter, Watson Arrives
Aug. 30, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - It's been 22 months, two schools and one, huge jump in status since Tre Watson last played a college football game.
The cornerback started for Central Washington on Nov. 13, 2010, in the season finale against Western Oregon. There were 2,954 people watching that day in Ellensburg, Wash.
There will be more than 15 times that number watching his next game, in CenturyLink Field. And that's not even counting the national audience that will be watching on cable television.
Saturday night, when the Huskies kickoff the 2012 season at home against San Diego State, Watson will go from junior college to the Football Championship Subdivision to top-level walkon last year to starter on Washington's remodeled defense.
His mother Vassie, will be there from his family's Seattle home. So will his uncle, his brother and his sister.
From West Hills College in Fresno County, Calif., to Ellensburg to starting in the Pac-12.
"It's been a long journey. But I'm thankful," Watson said following practice Wednesday.
"It's the dream for every football player to play at this level."
That dream got even better hours later Wednesday when coach Steve Sarkisian announced he will be giving a scholarship to the 5-foot-9, 183-pound guy the big schools - including Washington - once thought was too small to even suit up for exactly the kind of game he will be starting Saturday.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network -- and here on GoHuskies.com with our game chat that is the only Huskies real-time play-by-play, pictures and analysis on the internet.
"We are thankful he wanted to be a Husky badly enough," coach Steve Sarkisian said.
"There is something to be said about perseverance and want-to. I appreciate guys like Tre Watson, who make a commitment to come here and walk on and earn a scholarship. I think that says a lot about his character."
The scholarship paperwork started Thursday, and Watson was likely to sign it Friday. Sarkisian said Watson will likely be the only walkon that will get a scholarship this season.
"He's earned it. We had one to offer, we had room, and he's done everything to work at this," Sarkisian said after Thursday morning's practice. "I am always appreciative of guys that have a plan and that are trying to get something done in their lives. Tre did that.
"He's an awesome kid. He works his tail off, not only on the field but in the classroom. I couldn't be more proud of him."
This job has been far from handed to him. Not only has Watson had to prove himself to a new coaching staff that didn't recruit him - frankly, had never heard of him until most of it arrived in January - he had to prove himself to teammates.
No one has challenged him more than Kasen Williams. Watson and Huskies' sophomore starting wide receiver spent all of August's practices in what almost looked like steel-cage matches during one-on-one battles down the sidelines.
Watson continually banged into the much-bigger Williams. Williams constantly tried to throw Watson through the sideline boundary. The two would claw through each other for passes, then woof at each other like frat brothers after the play ended.
"The thing with him and me, the competition makes each of us better," Williams said. "Getting in each other's faces makes us compete more, and that's what it's done, made us both better. I thought if I would challenge him it would bring out the best in him and in me, and the coaches would see that."
Oh, yes, they've noticed.
"Him walking on and now starting our first game, it's just a great story," Williams said.
Watson was supposedly too undersized to play on this stage coming out of Kennedy Catholic High School in Seattle, so he went to play junior-college ball at West Hills College in Coalinga, Calif. He played all 10 games that 2009 season there and had six pass break ups and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a score.
He took that play-making ability to Central Washington in 2010. In 11 games, 10 starts, he made 28 tackles, recovered a fumble, forced another, blocked a kick and returned an interception 40 yards.
That winter Watson told his family he desired a bigger challenge, a chance to excel at the highest level of college football. On Feb. 2, 2011, Central Washington gave UW permission to speak to Watson about possibly playing for the Huskies. He then called Washington's compliance office to find out what the NCAA required for him to transfer home and then try to make the Huskies' team as a walkon.
Informed and eager, Watson walked away from his starting job at Central, immediately enrolled at UW and called the Huskies football office. He was essentially cold-calling for a roster spot. Sarkisian and his staff just didn't take the kid at his word, of course. They did some digging and found out what they still see, that this supposedly too-small cornerback has made big plays at every level he's been.
So the Huskies let him come out last summer for preseason camp. He had to sit out the season as a redshirt per NCAA transfer rules. He spent last fall on the scout defense preparing Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, Kasen Williams and UW's offense for that week's opponents.
"We saw it last year when he was on the service team with us, down there on the offensive end working with the scout team," the coach said. "He just has a knack for making plays and being around the ball. Very, very high football IQ. The guy gets the game of football.
"And maybe what he lacks in stature or speed he makes up for with anticipation, intuitiveness and just a will."
Another reason Sarkisian and his staff didn't find Watson through those recruiting cracks in early 2009: They had just arrived from USC and barely had a month to recruit before that year's signing day. That wasn't nearly enough time to unearth overlooked gems, like the one Watson may be proving to be.
"Everybody tries to be perfect in recruiting. And everybody's got (rating) stars, all the stars in the world," Sarkisian said. "I was reminding the guys (this week) that Keith Price was a two-star guy, the 150th-ranked athlete in the country. You guys didn't even rank him a quarterback. And he's turned out OK.
"So you miss sometime."
But the Huskies feel like they've hit this summer on a potential revelation at cornerback opposite Desmond Trufant.
Given how far he's come to get here, Watson is understandably honored to fill that starting role.
"Oh, it's going to be very humbling," he said of Saturday night. "In my mind I've tried to prepare for it the best I can. But I can't imagine what it will be like for me."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: WR/KR Kevin Smith was full go again in practice. Sarkisian said his excitable, respected junior will have the same status for Saturday's game. It's been eight months since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee practicing for the Alamo Bowl. "Kevin has made a tremendous return," Sarkisian said, adding that his teammates love the energy Smith brings to practices and games. ... In reviewing last season's narrow escape past Eastern Washington, which Trufant preserved with an end-zone interception in the final minute, Sarkisian thinks the 2011 team got too amped too soon before that opening game and was spent by kickoff. So this weekend, he is trying to pace his team's enthusiasm more prior to Saturday night. ... The smaller, NFL locker room at CenturyLink Field means UW will dress only about 80 players for home games this season, rather than all 105 on the team as they do for games at Husky Stadium.