WPIAL Alum Q&A – Justin Watson
By: Don Rebel
Tuesday, October 10, 2017 | 2:57 AM
Justin Watson enjoyed a terrific high-school football career at South Fayette, and was part of perhaps the Lions’ greatest team in school history in 2013. Since then, he’s been one of the best players in the Ivy League while staring at Penn. Watson is this week’s feature for the WPIAL Alum Q&A.
Watson was a three-year letterwinner at South Fayette, beginning in 2011, when the receiver caught seven passes for 106 yards and two scores. That campaign, the Lions finished 7-4, winning a playoff contest against Beaver Falls before losing to Seton-LaSalle in the quarterfinals.
In 2012, Watson increased his production to 28 catches for 582 yards and eight scores. The Lions enjoyed much greater success, too, as they produced an undefeated regular season. In the postseason, South Fayette bested Freedom and Beaver Falls, but fell to Washington in the Class 2A semifinals.
Watson’s senior year was one for the ages, both individually and for the team. Watson hauled in 63 passes for 1,568 yards, averaging nearly 25 yards per reception, and found the end zone 19 times. His single-season yardage total ranked third in Pennsylvania history. Subsequently, he was named a First-Team All-Conference and First-Team All-State performer.
Perhaps more significantly, South Fayette produced an undefeated season en route to district and state titles. In the playoffs, the Lions defeated Greensburg Central Catholic, Seton-LaSalle and Beaver Falls to reach the WPIAL 2A Championship, in which they edged Aliquippa. From there, South Fayette knocked off Karns City, Hickory, and Imhotep Charter, 41-0, to win the PIAA crown.
Watson also played basketball for the Lions, in which he lettered three times and served as a captain during his senior season.
Following his prep career, Watson matriculated to the University of Pennsylvania, where he has achieved immense success on the gridiron. As a freshman in 2014, Watson played in all 10 games, setting a team freshman record with 42 receptions, as well as 497 yards and two scores. Penn sputtered to a 2-8 finish that season, however.
The next year, Watson exploded onto the national scene, as he collected 74 catches for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns, all marks that led the Ivy League. He also rushed for 154 yards and a score on just 10 carries. As a result, he was a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy League honoree, and the runner-up for Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. Meanwhile, Penn enjoyed a notable turnaround, as the Quakers finished 7-3, including a 6-1 mark in conference action, winning the league championship.
Last season, Watson was even more prolific, as he hauled in 89 passes for 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns, and added another 133 yards on the ground. In the process, he set new Penn records for receptions and receiving yards, and led the Ivy League in both categories, as well. Watson once again was a unanimous choice for the First-Team Ivy League, and a finalist for Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. Moreover, he was a finalist for the Walton Payton Award as the FCS Offensive Player of the Year. The team replicated its success from the prior season, again finishing 7-3 and winning the Ivy League Championship with a mark of 6-1.
Now four games into his senior campaign, Watson has compiled 27 catches for 389 yards and six scores, and has rushed for 31 yards. The Quakers are just 2-2 at this point, however, dropping their only conference affair.
Justin took time out of his schedule to answer questions about his favorite college moment, which NFL legend he would like to go one-on-one against, and his favorite video game of all time.
Q: You have put up prolific receiving numbers throughout your entire college career. What has been the biggest factor to this success?
A: I’ve been surrounded by great coaches and players at Penn, which has fueled my success. South Fayette prepared me to come to Penn and compete right away.
Q: What is the area of your game you have improved the most during your time at Penn?
A: I have become a more complete player. In high school, I only played outside receiver and mainly caught deep routes. I have worked to become comfortable running any type of route, from the outside and the slot, and taking handoffs from the backfield.
Q: What has been your greatest moment thus far playing college football?
A: My favorite moment has been scoring a game-winning, last-second touchdown against Harvard last year. They had stopped our offense all game, until the final two minutes, when we drove into the end zone. It was awesome to cap that drive with a touchdown to seal the Ivy League championship for those seniors.
Q: Penn’s record has improved drastically during your time there. What has been key to the turnaround?
A: I think the biggest reason is the new coaching staff. Coach P brought in two great coordinators, and they expect a championship level of hard work.
Q: What are your individual and team goals for 2017?
A: Our goal is always to win another Ivy League championship.
Q: What led to your decision to attend Penn?
A: Penn is a special place, being able to combine a high level of football and Ivy League academics. I came from a championship-level program at South Fayette, and Penn seemed like the place to go to continue to win championships.
Q: What is your major, and ideal future profession?
A: Finance, and eventually, I would love to open my own wealth management firm.
Q: What has been your favorite college class?
A: I took an elective called great story collections last spring. We learned about famous short stories for the first hour of class, and then told stories for the second hour. It was a pretty awesome class.
Q: You enjoyed incredible success at South Fayette, too. What was your fondest memory?
A: My fondest memory at South Fayette was the weekend of the state championship. We spent an extra day in Hershey because our game was delayed for snow, which is always fun, and then won our school’s first ever state championship. That will always be one of my favorite football memories.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with former teammates and coaches from high school?
A: Yeah, all the time. I still throw with Brett Brumbaugh every time I’m home on break, and come back to as many practices as I can. And lucky for me, there are two South Fayette guys with me here at Penn – Logan Sharp and Hunter Hayes.
Q: If you could go one-on-one against any defensive back in the NFL, who would you choose?
A: If I could go against any DB, I’d love to play against Mel Blount in his prime. He changed the position with his physicality.
Q: Do you listen to any type of music or particular song to get you ready for a game?
A: Not really, whatever is on in the locker room.
Q: What is your favorite video game of all time?
A: Mario Cart
Q: What is a little-known fact about you, or a hidden talent you possess?
A: My oldest brother, Tommy, has cerebral palsy and is my biggest inspiration.
Q: What is your greatest achievement in life?
A: My greatest achievement in life is knowing when my brother, Alex, gets married, I will be his best man and he’ll be mine. We fought a lot growing up, but he’s my best friend and I’m really proud of him.
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.