Gorman: For Watson, receiving is elementary
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Justin Watson was a skinny sophomore worried about remembering routes and concentrating on catching passes when he decided to redefine himself as a receiver.
“I realized that you just weren't going to be open — you have to run good routes,” he said. “You have to make sure everything is crisp and sharp. Now, I have so much confidence. That's important as a receiver. Now, I worry about making yards after the catch.”
Now, the South Fayette senior is on the verge of breaking a WPIAL record.
Watson has 1,402 receiving yards and needs 144 yards to break the WPIAL single-season mark (1,545) for receiving yards, set by Carmen Connolly of Seton-La Salle in 2004.
That leads to an elementary equation for Watson. He knows if he breaks the record in the PIAA Class AA semifinal against Hickory on Saturday at Slippery Rock University, the Lions have a better shot of making into the state championship game in Hershey.
“I haven't worried about it too much,” Watson said. “I'm focused on winning, not stats, but it definitely would be an awesome achievement.”
One that Watson couldn't conceive at season's start. As a junior, he had 28 receptions for 592 yards and eight touchdowns while playing in the shadow of Zach Challingsworth, now a Pitt freshman.
Watson watched Challingsworth and tried to mirror his every move. This year, he has taken the reins of that leadership role and sets the example.
“You see him run a route, finishing and getting to the end zone in the 15th week of the season,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “He's full-tilt, full-go all the time. That's why he's so successful, because he's so driven.
“He's probably the best route runner we've seen. He has all the talent and tools. He's such a weapon. With our offense, we have one-on-one a lot because we spread it out and it's hard to bracket him.”
South Fayette showed just how hard in the WPIAL final at Heinz Field. Against an Aliquippa secondary featuring Dravon Henry, Watson had five receptions for 130 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown
“Obviously, it was a huge motivating factor all season long, to know I was going up against a guy who was getting so much attention and is such a great player,” Watson said.
“It's definitely a confidence booster, knowing that I was able to perform well against one of the best corners in the country. I've always had that confidence, to believe that I'm one of the elite receivers and will do well on the next level.”
Yet where South Fayette's Brett Brumbaugh is regarded as one of Western Pennsylvania's top quarterbacks (only 286 yards shy of setting the WPIAL single-season passing record), Watson rarely is mentioned as one of its top receivers.
“He wanted to show he's an elite receiver — we feel he's the elite receiver in the WPIAL — and teams have struggled to defend him,” Rossi said. “On that stage, in that game, he wanted to show he's the best in the WPIAL.”
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Watson runs the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds and had Mid-American Conference offers. Instead, he chose the Ivy League and picked Penn, where he plans to study economics at its acclaimed Wharton School of Business.
It should come as no surprise that Watson is good with statistics. Most impressive is that Watson's 1,402 yards have come on 62 receptions, with 20 scores. Connolly finished with 116 receptions in '04, and none of the state's top 10 single-season receiving yards leaders had fewer than 75 catches.
“They're very similar players, the way they catch the ball with their hands and attack the ball. They don't wait for the ball to come to them. They go get the ball,” said Seton-La Salle coach Greg Perry, who coached Connolly. “I don't know if there's a better football player at any level.”
The state record of 2,031 receiving yards, set by Kevin Gulyas of Allentown Central Catholic in 2011, is out of reach. Watson wants to leave his mark while leading the Lions to a state title.
“There's some pressure there, but I wouldn't want it any other way,” Watson said. “I want the state championship game to be in my hands.”
Why not? They're as good as any in WPIAL history.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Red Wings rally, shock Penguins in overtime
- Propels leave the lights on to showcase their after-school activities
- Predators winger Neal caught ‘blindsided’ by trade from Penguins
- Elizabeth Forward team honored for playoff berth
- Rossi: Middling Steelers must make a statement
- Harvest of Hope fundraiser to support cancer patients
- Former Ligonier Township supervisor accused of costing residents thousands, viewing porn on the job
- White Oak church keeps alive Scots community celebration
- Board vote turns in favor of union workers
- Pittsburgh Whiskey festival provides exposure to new products
- Steelers’ Adams delivers in pinch against Texans