Playing time in the Texas Longhorns secondary won’t come easy for the foreseeable future. Underclassmen including Josh Thompson, Kobe Boyce, and Chris Brown are scrapping to carve out their own role within the Texas two deep, and competing with them for those reps this fall will be six former high school All-American defensive backs in Caden Sterns, B.J. Foster, Anthony Cook, Jalen Green, D’shawn Jamison, and DeMarvion Overshown.
The former three have already earned plenty of praise throughout the spring as potential instant-impact early enrollees in Austin, where they’ll patrol the secondary for the next several years.
Whether or not that increased competition can be credited as the cause for Texas’ 23 defensive back offers netting just one commitment thus far, it’s something Loganville (Ga.) Grayson cornerback Kenyatta Watson II didn’t concern himself with when he sided with Texas over Notre Dame on May 1.
“As far as I was concerned, I really wasn’t concerned with who was or wasn’t recruited,” Watson told Burnt Orange Nation. “It was more about finding a place that’s going to fit me academically and athletically.”
To find that fit, Watson considered upwards of 40 offers, with invitations stemming from the likes of Georgia, Florida, Auburn, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State, and USC, just to name a few. Among those 40 other options were opportunities with a much clearer path to early, if not immediate playing time, and there certainly weren’t any among the bunch just months removed from signing arguably the most impressive defensive back haul in history.
Watson is well aware of what awaits him in Austin, though.
He’s ready and willing to embrace that challenge from the moment his steps foot on the Forty Acres next summer, and he’ll do so confidently after cutting his teeth against the competition at Georgia powerhouse Loganville Grayson for the past three seasons.
“For the most part, from where I play at,” Watson said of where his confidence comes from, adding that he became more motivated after often being limited earlier in his high school career. “I’m not afraid of competition regardless of who you are. At the end of the day, the best man is gonna win, regardless if they’re six All-Americans or not.”
Much like those who’ll be competing with and against at this time next year, Watson, too, will arrive in Austin as an All-American, as he’ll represent Texas at the Under Armour All-America Game next January. A tremendously impressive athlete who recorded a SPARQ grade of 124.86 — the 11th-best effort in the country — courtesy of a 4.50 40-yard dash, a 4.12-second shuttle, and a 45.2-inch vertical leap, Watson owns ideal size for a boundary corner prospect at 6’2, 187 pounds.
More notably, he has the confidence to feel comfortable alone on an island.
“I think I’m very good at playing man and zone coverages, but mostly man because of how long and fast I am,” Watson said. “Not a lot of [receivers] can get off of the coverage. I think for me as a player, that’s where I can excel at.”
Despite the confidence, elite measurables, and the four-star All-American status, though, Watson is aware that a learning curve awaits once he makes the jump the Power 5 football. To prepare for that point, he’s working to improve his backpedal and getting in and out of his breaks, as well as getting faster and stronger.
“Everything, really. There’s not really anything that I can’t work on,” Watson said.
Watson’s sentiments are especially true considering the league he’ll find himself following his final season at Loganville Grayson. Watson could have called one of several options in every Power 5 Conference home, but he elected to take his talents to arguably the most pass-happy conference in the country.
For example, seven of the nation’s top-40 teams in pass play percentage hail from the Big 12, which surprisingly excludes Oklahoma — no other league has more than four teams within that sample size. The Texas secondary, specifically, was tasked with defending an average of 36.1 passes per game throughout Big 12 play last season, and Watson said his attributes are geared towards that kind of workload.
“I think my skill set really specifies on that part of the game, the fact that they are going to throw the ball 40 times,” Watson said. “More often than not, the quarterback is going to come out and try me on the first one or two plays just to see if I really might pick the ball off. If he makes that that mistake then that’s just going to be six being put on the board or a turnover or a down.
“I think after a while, a quarterback will just know, ‘I can’t keep throwing that way or eventually this is going to get picked off,’” Watson added.
What is an embarrassment of riches?
If opposing quarterbacks can’t throw Watson’s way, their other options will include throwing at the six aforementioned All-Americans, which will often share the field as part of the Texas Lightning package. Where would Watson, the seventh All-American defensive back eyeing his first game in Austin, fit into that mix?
“Everyone’s game is different and being the player that I am, I can play more than one position, whether it’s safety, corner, or in the slot.”
The days of Watson sharing the field with the Texas 2018 defensive back class when the 2019 season gets underway against Louisiana Tech are still more than 14 months in the future, though. And unlike that six-man bunch, which hail entirely from the Lone Star State, the Georgia product’s high school stomping grounds are four states to the east, so Watson’s final season at Loganville Grayson won’t be easily accessible to the casual fan.
After all, Watson will be the first out-of-state defensive back to call the Forty Acres home since Davante Davis joined Charlie Strong’s 2015 class, so he detailed what he’ll bring to the table for those who may not be familiar with his skill set and personality.
“I’m going to bring a lot of energy and a lot of juice. I’m a person that when I get on the field I get excited,” Watson said. “When I’m playing, you know that I’m playing or that I’m somewhere on the field, regardless if it’s making a play or celebrating with a teammate.
“Whenever I step on the field, I bring my A game, but I think I really start to show what I can do and shine when it becomes a dogfight and it becomes grind time.”