Will Watson is a self-proclaimed “underdog” on the gridiron.
“I’m just not the biggest guy on the field,” he says. “I feel like I get underestimated a lot for my abilities, whether it be my strength or my speed. I may be 5’11” and 180 pounds, but I can still run you over as well.”
If you look past his frame, you’ll see a man who’d do anything to make his professional football dreams a reality.
Originally suiting up as a running back, Watson played all of his adolescent years for the White Rock Titans community football team in South Surrey, BC, eventually switching to receiver at age 17. He had plans of playing high school ball, but various circumstances forced him to stay with the Titans. Due to this, he flew relatively under the radar when he tried out for the provincial team in high school.
“I definitely remember going to the Team BC tryout, and none of the coaches knew who I was,” he says. “But then once I started playing, they were all like ‘what high school did you go to? Where are you from?’ I’m just like, I don’t play high school football, I play for White Rock Minor Football.”
Unfortunately, the Team BC tryout didn’t go as planned, as he suffered a severe knee injury that eventually required surgery. To say he was devastated would be an understatement.
“I had spoken to a few schools in the states about potentially going the junior college route for a year, and then transferring to one of the NCAA Division 1 schools that I was in discussions with, but all of that kind of went out the window when I had my knee injury,” he says.
“I kind of felt like my career came to an end at that point, because it was at a critical point in the whole recruiting process. It really put into perspective how quickly the game could be taken away from me, and seeing all the schools that had once shown interest in me disappear, I kind of felt like I was forgotten about.”
“Ever since then, it’s been like, I don’t need to tell you, I would rather show you what I can do, and if you don’t believe me, I’ll prove you wrong, and if you do, I’ll prove you right.”
Watson showed his grit, as he won a provincial title while playing the entire year with a bummed knee. With all other university options gone, he stayed home and secured a spot with the UBC Thunderbirds for the 2013 season.
Time with UBC
Watson’s first two years with the T-Birds were “disappointing.” The team went a combined 6-10, with the redshirt sophomore seeing very little time in the starting line-up.
But in 2015, everything changed. The multi Vanier Cup champion, Blake Nill, took over the reigns from former head coach Shawn Olson.
“[Nill] came in, and he was one of the guys that right off the bat told all of the guys that were on the team already that there wasn’t going to be any political games being played in terms of the older guys being guaranteed to play,” Watson says.
“It was kind of like the best man’s going to step on the field, and whoever the best guy is that week is going to be the guy who is playing. I kind of took that as my opportunity to really make my impact with the team, and show that the last two years of me not playing was a mistake.”
Watson stayed true to his word, registering a team leading 71 catches and 977 yards over 13 games en route to a Vanier Cup victory. Despite the numbers, he continued to be his own worst critic.
“From my personal standpoint on my performance, I still underachieved to what I’m capable of, but I still did pretty well in terms of my stats and leading my team,” he says.
The following year, Watson shone again. He hauled in 57 receptions for 709 yards and six majors over 11 games, before falling just short of another Vanier Cup ring.
“I still performed fairly well during the regular season,” he says of his numbers. “There were a few games where I didn’t have many catches or many yards, and I know that if I had a few of those games back, the final result of the season would be a lot different, but I know that I can’t change the past.”
After racking up over 1,600 yards in the past two years, as well as a strong showing at the 2017 East West Bowl, Watson was ready to cement himself as top level CFL prospect. However, his stock went out the window after suffering a torn groin midway through his junior campaign.
“Last season was devastating for me personally, because I’m finished my degree now, and I hoped that it would be my last season playing for UBC,” he says.
“I wanted to end on a high note, not just personally, but as a team – I also wanted to go out with a bang with another national championship, and kind of lead the way in doing that – and I wasn’t able to do that.”
Strong combine showing
Watson’s pro dreams were filled with uncertainty entering 2018, as he waited to see if he’d get an invite to the Western Regional combine in Winnipeg in late March.
“I was on [the CFL’s] radar to an extent, but once I got injured, I kind of fell off their radar. It was like, who are you again? I’ve always been an underdog in every situation I’ve been in, so I wasn’t too disappointed, because I knew I could prove people wrong, and I knew I had the right people in my corner to help me make it through the process.”
After many phone calls by his agent to CFL teams, Watson received the news that he’d gotten a spot. He didn’t let the opportunity go to waste, as he tested well and also demonstrated his playmaking abilities in the full pad session. Two days later, he earned one of three available spots to the national combine.
“I came here and booked a one way flight with one goal in mind, to make it to the national combine,” he said following his performance. “I did what I came here to do.”
Watson flashed his skills at the national combine as well, demonstrating his heart and work ethic on just a days rest.
When reflecting on his overall experience, he said, “It was amazing. I didn’t expect it to be as cool as it was. I expected it do be a lot of work, and it was, but how spaced out everything was, there was enough time to relax and get some much needed rest.”
With the three-day grind now over, all that’s left for Watson is to wait and see if his name gets called on draft day.
“I can look back and say that I did everything I could, from physical training and therapy, to my diet and sleep schedule,” he says of his regimen. “It all came together just like I’d hoped, and put me into the position I’m in right now.”