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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Work is paying off early for Watson

TAMPA - Elkino Watson is fairly certain every other true freshman across the nation shared his dream, which was to make an immediate impact in his first season of college football. Whether or not everyone else shared the vision to make it a reality is another story, but the University of South Florida defensive tackle seemed to have a crystal-clear view of what was needed. "If you don't come in and put in the work, that's not going to happen," Watson said. "In my mind I was just thinking, 'Let's go work hard, let's go work hard, let's go get it.' " Watson has gotten after it, all right. The youngster was among the few bright spots in the Bulls' 44-17 loss at Pittsburgh, finishing with eight tackles, including two for a loss and his first career sack.
It was the third time in the past four games that Watson finished with seven or more tackles, which is two more seven-plus-tackle games than USF's entire defensive line — starters and backups combined — produced in 2010. "I just wanted to come in and work and work," Watson said, "and I guess the hard work is paying off." It was evident to anyone watching just how much Watson was willing to work from the moment fall camp opened. When minor injuries forced a handful of his teammates to the sideline during practice, defensive tackles coach Kevin Patrick continually summoned Watson to jump in and take the extra reps, be it with the first-, second- or third-team lines. Watson always managed to answer the call. "I was dead tired, but I was fighting, just trying to get those reps in," said Watson, who quickly began to earn the respect of his teammates due to his willingness to get back on the field even though he was physically spent. "It's very uncommon for a freshman to keep pushing on like that when they're tired. They'll usually give up," senior defensive tackle Keith McCaskill said. "It seemed as though he just kept going and going to try and help support us." And it didn't stop there. "We would break as a team and he would come over and say, 'Let's do a little extra over here, let's do a little extra over there.' That's when you start saying this kid's got a little extra in him, more than we initially thought," Patrick said. "He proved it day in and day out. He wanted it. He drove for it. He strived for it. It's something he worked hard towards." Now, he's reaping the benefits. Watson's 26 tackles ranks behind only the trio of Bulls starting linebackers (Mike Lanaris, DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington) among the team's leaders this season. His total is twice as many as the next-best for a USF defensive lineman (end Ryne Giddins has 13) and is the most for a USF defensive tackle since 2008 (and six shy of Terrell McClain's total that season). Watson also leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss, which ranks fourth in the Big East and 44th nationally but is tops in the nation among true freshmen. There's still plenty of work to be done with Watson's fundamentals and technique, both Patrick and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder agree, but there's no denying Watson's uncanny ability to make plays. "He is fundamentally a freshman, he is physically a freshman, but his ability to make plays is like a veteran. It's really amazing," Patrick said. "Sometimes when there's no way you think he's going to get there he gets there." Added Snyder: "He can be out of place and out of a technique or fundamental and he still goes and makes a play. It's pretty neat. He's got a knack for getting to the football." Watson may be enjoying some early success, but coaches don't see it going to his head. "I think Elkino is a very intelligent young man, a very humble young man. I think he knows what's going on," Patrick said. "He knows he's racked up some tackles, that he's one of the most productive freshmen in the country right now, but in his eyes and between his ears he knows he's got to get a lot better. "He knows that he can become a lot better fundamentally, which in turn is going to make him an even bigger producer on the field and make him a better player. You don't have to stay on him too much about that. He keeps himself humble. "He knows he's got a long way to go." One thing is certain: Watson is ready to put in the work to get there. "I've just been going out and working hard and putting forth the effort," Watson said. "If I put in 100 percent, K.P. will say go 110, so that's what I do. I just try to keep working hard."

aadkins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7616
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