STARKVILLE – Nathaniel Watson did a little bit of everything during his high school career.
Watson played wide receiver, running back, returned kicks and was all over the field on defense all the while helping lead Maplesville claim three state championships in Alabama.
These days though, the redshirt freshman has settled in at linebacker for Mississippi State.
“I miss those days of playing wide receiver or running back,” Watson said. “Those were nice days but now I’m at linebacker and I can still touch the ball, you’ve just got to work a little harder to get it.”
Watson got the ball plenty during his senior season at Maplesville with 45 carries for 508 yards and two touchdowns, 21 catches for 505 yards and eight scores, four kickoff returns for 213 yards and two TDs to go along with 39 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and three interceptions – two of which were pick-6’s.
But last year Watson stepped foot in the big, bad Southeastern Conference. It was quite a jump for someone who was used to competing at a small high school.
“I’m probably the only (Class) 1A guy on the team and going to the SEC was a big leap,” Watson said. “I handled it pretty well coming in for the most part.”
The 6-foot-2 Watson grew from 225 to 247-pounds during his redshirt year and even played in a pair of games for the Bulldogs last fall. He debuted against Stephen F. Austin and also appeared against Louisiana Tech, totaling three tackles on the year.
“It helped a lot going ahead and getting in some games last year,” Watson said. “I know those reps last year weren’t against SEC teams but they really helped me mature more and understand the defense better.”
Watson has continued that learning process into this season. He is working primarily at will linebacker but is also sharpening his skills at mike as well under new linebackers coach Chris Marve.
With linebacker being a position of strength and experience for MSU in 2019, Watson is attempting to sponge off of those players currently ahead of him on the depth chart.
“I’m getting reps with linebackers like Leo Lewis, Aaron Brule, Erroll Thompson and Tim Washington and getting reps with them is really helping me understand defense a lot more than last year,” Watson said.
Watson made the trip to New Orleans for the Bulldogs’ season opener last weekend, playing primarily on special teams against Louisiana.
Watson has slowly started to adjust to what life as an SEC football player is all about and has enjoyed the past year and a half in Starkville.
“This whole experience has been great so far,” Watson said. “It’s going well. The new coaching staff came in and they’re all behind us. I’m just looking forward to a great season with them.”