Path to the Pros: Cleveland Browns TE Ben Watson

Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson shares how he was recruited and make it to the bigs.

Ben Watson's Path to the NFL

Cleveland Browns TE Ben Watson learned the hard way that, in the world of athletic recruiting, student-athletes should always have a plan B (and C). The 30-year-old Super Bowl Champion (with the Patriots) shares this and other advice with high school athletes currently in the middle of the recruiting process.

As a star high school athlete (in Rock Hill, SC), Watson put together a resume that should have caught the attention of many college football recruiters. As a senior, he averaged 16.6 yards per catch, won All-State honors and was voted Student of the Year. He thought he'd have his choice of top college football programs, but he was wrong.

"I had narrowed it down to Duke University, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech," says Watson. Joining the Fighting Irish was his first choice. "I was about to take my official visit," he says,  "and they call me as I'm about to leave for the airport. 'Sorry, we just had a tight end commit. We don't need you to come anymore.' I was crushed, I was devastated."

From his journey back after that disappointment, Watson distilled the following lessons:

Refuse to be discouraged by your dream school's rejection. Watson says he immediately accepted that Notre Dame wasn't the right place for him and shifted his focus to schools that actually wanted him.

Go to a school that has a quality academic program and a major you might be interested in. "Your primary purpose in going to college is to get an education," he says. His parents always stressed education, refusing to allow him to play if his grades suffered. When academic powerhouse Duke recruited him, he signed on.

If you want to get to the next level, choose a school that will allow you to be the best athlete you can be. Watson eventually realized that Duke's football program wasn't what he needed, so he transferred to University of Georgia.

Ask tough questions. "Ask coaches straight up, 'Where do you see me in your plans?' Specifically ask members of the team how the coach reacts during live game situations."

Make the decision yourself. "Try not to let expectations of friends [or] family influence your decision."

Always have a Plan B (and C). Because Watson remained flexible and always had a backup plan, he was able to achieve his academic and athletic goals. After graduating with a degree in finance from the Terry College of Business at UGA, he was selected 32nd overall by the New England Patriots in the 2004 NFL Draft.


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