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Watts Is Overcoming Adversity To Accomplish Rare Feat

Sept. 11, 2000

By Samantha Carruth Student Assistant Sports Info. Missouri Game Program – September 9, 2000

Senior wide receiver Justin Watts has the chance this year to become the first Tiger player since 1919 and only second player in Clemson history to earn five letters in his career. Despite gaining a medical redshirt in 1997, he still earned a letter, allowing him to accomplish the rare feat of five letters.

Watts has had to overcome a lot of adversity in his career with several injuries, including one that forced him to miss nearly the entire 1997 season. To help him in these trying times, he turned to his role models.

With two solid role models throughout his football career, Justin has not only gained a better understanding of football, but also a better understanding of life.

With the guidance of his father and Clemson wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill, Watts plans to pursue a career in college coaching after his playing days are over.

“Coaching is all I have ever wanted to do and I feel I have experienced and witnessed the positives and negatives of coaching,” Watts said.

After this season, he hopes to obtain a graduate assistant position at Clemson or at another school in the Southeast and work his way up into a full-time coaching position.

Watts’ passion for football was a foregone conclusion considering the family in which he was born.

“I have always been around football. Everything about our family revolves around football. When we sit down at the dinner table, my dad and I discuss defenses, not politics like other families,” Watts said.

Watts’ father is the athletic director and head football coach at South Florence High School. The time and effort that his dad put into coaching was witnessed by Watts, which has enabled him to understand the intricacies of the coaching profession. Watts had the advantage of having not only a father-son relationship, but also a coach-player relationship with his father.

“It is sometimes hard to draw the line between the two, but it is something other high school players don’t have,” said the younger Watts, who hopes to model his life after his father.

“My dad has taught me a lot of things I need to know about life, including balancing time between football and family. If there is one person in my life I could be like it would be my father.”

Growing up in a football family, Watts was exposed to football at a young age. By the time he could walk he was going to practice with his father, who has been in coaching for 24 years.

During elementary school Watts would ride the bus after school and instead of being dropped off at his house, he was dropped off at the practice field with his dad.

“I would put on my pads and run around with the older guys, but I couldn’t do too much because I wasn’t old enough or big enough.” Watts, who went on to become a SuperPrep All-American, decided to attend Clemson after narrowing his college choices to Clemson, South Carolina, N.C. State and Air Force.

“Clemson has a family atmosphere and everyone treats you great. You get a great education and you get to play in front of 86,000 people. Once you see a player run down the Hill and after you experience it, it is hard not to want to be a Tiger,” Watts said.

Throughout Watts’ life he was groomed to be a quarterback. He was ranked as the 17th best quarterback in the nation by SuperPrep his senior year. After arriving at Clemson his freshmen year he asked the coaches if he could change positions because there were three quarterbacks ahead of him.

“After discussing the position change with my dad, I felt I could make an impact on the team right away as a freshman. I miss playing quarterback, but I benefit the team more at receiver.”

In the 10th game of Watts’ freshman season, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). During Christmas break he had surgery and was out for six months.

“I was really down during that time. It was the hardest thing I have ever been through and I didn’t realize how it was going to affect me,” Watts said.

The next year after hard training and rehabilitation, Watts returned to full speed. But in the third game of the season against Florida State he went to make a block and felt something come loose in the same knee that was injured the previous year. He told himself after his first knee injury that if it happened again he would quit football.

“I actually thought about it and talked to my parents about it. My mom and dad gave me the option to do what I wanted, but encouraged me to stick with it.” After his second ACL injury Watts realized the impact his family had on him. “They reminded me to stay strong and make the right decision.”

Since arriving at Clemson, Watts has had six knee surgeries. “It is a hard process to go through. Every day you go to practice you are reminded of it. It dictates what you can and cannot do,” Watts said.

Despite the injuries, Watts is a veteran of 36 games, more than any current Tiger. He can tie the Clemson record for games played if he plays in 12 games in 2000, assuming Clemson plays in a bowl game. He has also been in on 1,111 career plays, sixth most on the team.

Watts has given the Tigers a possession receiver who has come through with some critical catches, including a leaping 35-yard catch last year against Virginia. He also made a spectacular leaping catch against Florida State for 27 yards and finished the game with 56 yards on three receptions.

Stockstill, who has coached Watts throughout his Tiger career, notes his tireless work ethic and never-say-die attitude on the field. “I have really enjoyed coaching Justin,” Stockstill said. “He is the epitome of what a football player is and should be. He is a great team player and I have a ton of respect for him. He has represented Clemson University and the football program well the last five years and Clemson people should be proud of what he stands for.”

Coach Stockstill is a big reason Watts chose to pursue college coaching. While coaching Watts in football, he has also instilled knowledge about life.

“Coach Stockstill has not only been here for me the last five years, but for every player that comes into the Clemson family. He has taught me tons about football, but more about life. I want to be able to coach the way he does and help kids the same way he has.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that he will be a successful coach,” Stockstill said. “He will be a good coach because he cares about the game and he will care about the people he coaches.”

Watts plans on graduating in December with a degree in PRTM with an emphasis in Sport Management.

With role models like his father and Coach Stockstill, Watts possesses all the qualities needed to be a successful college coach. His determination and understanding of the coaching profession will allow him to touch the lives of others like his role models have touched his.