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OT Watson takes unlikely path to draft

Posted Apr 23, 2013

Offensive tackle Menelik Watson isn't your typical NFL Draft prospect.

He's from England and didn't even know how to put on football pads two years ago. He grew up poor but hasn't really put much thought into all the money he's about to have as a first- or second-round draft pick.

On the other hand, he is 6-foot-5, weighs 310 pounds and is a freakish athlete.

"I'm just getting into it," Watson said. "I haven't scratched the surface yet."

Watson grew up dreaming of playing in the NBA, and he earned a scholarship to play at Marist College. But after redshirting as a freshman and contributing but not truly taking off as a sophomore, Watson realized his dream wasn't going to become a reality.

So he simply forged a new dream, one that is about to come true.

"I had to make a calculated decision about where I was going to go with my life," said Watson, sporting his British accent. "It was either go back to England, get a job and give up the whole athletic situation, or find something new. I found football."

Watson, an avid soccer player growing up, had seen American football on television and decided to try it. Following a brief foray into boxing, he tried to find a place to play football for the first time, finally getting a nibble of interest from Saddleback Junior College in California.

"I was 23, from England, had never played football, didn't know what a three-point stance or two-point stance was, didn't know how to put on pads," Watson said. "I didn't know a thing about football. But I knew I could do it. It's a mindset.

"I couldn't find a junior college or college that would take me – they all thought I was crazy. I finally found one that said it would give me a fair shot."

He first tried his luck along the defensive line before teammate Kyle Long – the son of Hall of Fame inductee Howie Long and a top draft prospect himself – suggested Watson join him on the offensive line.

"It was great. We were a maul-fest. Defenses hated us," Watson said. "Kyle said, ‘Listen, the quarterback is the basket. Protect the basket.' It was just as simple as that."

After one dominant season on the junior college level, a multitude of big-time programs wanted him. Watson transferred to Florida State, where he immediately became a force at right tackle. After one season, he entered the NFL Draft – not for the money, but for the challenge.

"I didn't choose this sport because I can make millions. I chose it because I love to play sports," Watson said. "I've never been around money, so I don't feel like it should be a driving force in my life now."

The lack of money was a driving force at times during his childhood in a rugged section of Manchester, England.

"My mom worked as much as she could. She raised four kids by herself," Watson said. "One time she was cleaning this building, and we were hungry. I was starving. We went in this cafeteria area, and the only thing on the table was ketchup. It's not like I could go to my mom and ask for a couple of pounds to get something to eat. So being hungry, I just started drinking ketchup. I don't really like ketchup anymore."

Watson said his mother did everything she could to provide for the family, and her perseverance rather than the battles with poverty is what shaped him, what helped make him a most unique future NFL player.

"It was rough. I saw a lot of things - drugs, guns, gangs - but my mom did a good job of showing us how things are supposed to be even though things are tough," Watson said. "I just made the most of a difficult situation that potentially could have been worse. I grew up thinking that with all the negativity around me, I need to do something positive.

"I want to be a shining example that no matter where you come from, you can do something positive."