Cornerback Tre Watson goes from being a walk-on last year to being a starter and winning a UW scholarship.
Tre Watson held no grudges when Washington told him no the first time.
Washington, he knew, was hardly alone in initially questioning if he could play Division I football.
Washington State, Montana State, Boise State and Eastern Washington were among those who also gave Watson a look during his days as a standout running back and defensive back at Kennedy High and ultimately passed.
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“Everybody tries to be perfect in recruiting,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. “(But) you miss sometimes.”
Proof that everyone did indeed strike out on Watson came this week when Washington released its depth chart for Saturday’s season opener against San Diego State and Watson was listed as a starter at cornerback.
The designation capped what Watson calls “a long journey” to achieve a goal he said never dimmed, even in the face of the initial rejection.
“It’s the dream for every college football player to play at this level,” Watson said.
It’s a dream Watson kept alive when he left Kennedy without any four-year offers. He decided instead in the fall of 2009 to attend West Hills College in Coalinga, Calif., where he starred as a defensive back and kick returner.
That led to a scholarship offer from Central Washington, where Watson became a starter as a sophomore in 2010. He was happy enough there, but the dream lingered.
And his success in Ellensburg only further convinced him he had what it took to play at the Division I level.
So after that season, Watson enrolled at UW, then contacted Washington coaches about walking on.
The reasoning, he said, was simple enough.
“It was the hometown team, one I always wanted to play for,” he said.
Watson was forced to sit out last season due to transfer rules, but immediately caught the eye of coaches with his play on the scout team.
“He just had a knack for making plays and being around the ball,” Sarkisian said.
That continued in the spring when Watson began working regularly with the UW defense, quickly becoming a factor in the competition along with junior Greg Ducre, a part-time starter in 2011, and touted redshirt freshman Marcus Peters as the starter opposite Desmond Trufant.
“He has a very, very high football IQ,” Sarkisian said. “The guy gets the game of football.”
And that, Sarkisian said, helps Watson make up for what he may lack in stature — Watson is listed at 5 feet 9, 183 pounds. It’s that height that was among the reasons many schools initially passed on Watson at Kennedy.
Watson, though, never really doubted.
Growing up, he played with and against a lot of players who went on to the Division I level, including Kennedy teammate Nolan Washington, who ended up signing with Washington State, and Kasen Williams, a combatant in summer-league passing tournaments.
“My teammates from the beginning have welcomed me, so I never have questioned it,” he said. “Guys … have always been on me from day one that it doesn’t matter if I am a walk-on or not, I am going to be accountable.”
Watson said he has been imagining what it will feel like Saturday to take the field for the first time as a Husky. He said last year simply putting on a jersey on game day and standing on the sideline was “a beautiful thing.”
Even better was the news this week that Watson had been awarded a scholarship.
“That says a lot about his character,” Sarkisian said.
All of it — the starting spot, the scholarship — might have been enough to cause Watson to feel some vindication. Watson, though, said that’s never what any of this was about.
“It’s just about my own personal goals,” he said, “and taking this opportunity and making the most of it.”
• WR Kevin Smith, coming off an ACL injury suffered before the Alamo Bowl, practiced again, and Sarkisian said he is expected to play against San Diego State.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.