CLEMSON, SC -- Clemson's offense wasn't meant for a guy like Justin Watts.
In a spread-the-defense-to-the-limits offense like Clemson's, it's Watts
that should be stretched. He's a too-slow, out-of-place possession receiver.
He's an old dog trying to keep up with a pack of cheetas.
Two knee injuries have taken away whatever speed Watts brought to Clemson.
An All-American prep quarterback at South Florence, he switched to wide
receiver a few days after arriving at Clemson.
In the tenth game of his freshman year, he tore his anterior cruciate
ligament. Less than a year later he injured his other knee against Florida
State. And just when he had his niche carved out at Clemson as a possession
receiver, a new staff came in with and offense made for playmakers.
"I said to myself that either they'll come in and like me and I'll be a
possession receiver and catch two or three balls a game, or they'll come in
and it will be about speed and quickness and going vertical down the field,"
Watts fit in, all right. And not just because his best friend on the team,
Brandon Streeter, was playing quarterback.
He finished the regular season with 16 catches, three more than he had in
his previous three seasons. Clemson's offense is as much about precision as
it is speediness and Watts knows the system as well as anyone.
"He's very conscientious about everything he does," said wide receiver coach
Rick Stockstill. "He's highly motivated. He's not the best athlete out
there, but he works hard, if he isn't the hardest worker we've got."
Watts started nine games for Clemson. He caught a pass in nine games -
consistent if not spectacular.
"I think of Justin as a guy that's going to be in the right place at the
right time and he's going to make the catch for you," said Streeter, another
not-so-fast player that found a place in the offense.
Watts, however, still needles Streeter about the one time he tried to go
deep. In the second game of the season against Virginia, Watts told
Stockstill that he thought he could beat Virginia's cornerback, who was
playing him on the inside.
"I trust Justin, so we called the play," said Stockstill. Watts found
himself wide open behind the Virginia defense. The only problem was he was
about ten yards in front of Streeter's throw.
Watts came back to the ball and jumped over the Virginia cornerback to make
the catch for 35 yards.
"I was scared to go home to my dad (South Florence coach Mike Watts) if I
didn't make the catch," said Watts. "Brandon doesn't have the strongest arm,
as we all know. He was trying to make me look good and I tried to make him
Watts and Streeter have roomed together for three years. He'll lose his
roommate when Streeter moves out after the spring - it's the only thing
about next year he's not looking forward to.
"We were talking about it a couple of weeks ago," said Watts. "I don't know
who I'll go out and do things with all the time. He's been a big part of my
life and I'll miss him as a quarterback and a friend."
Watts has one season left, after which he wants to be a college coach.
"That's one good thing about changing coaching staffs," he said. "I made
contacts with eight new people. I need to meet as many people as I can."
He said he might even take this offense with him. "I really enjoy the way it
puts pressure on the defense."