Watauga football player Jake Watson played any position Pioneers head coach Ryan Habich asked him to play.
Sometimes it was tight end. It used to be outside linebacker. Watson also moved to running back two times this season. In college, it’s likely that Watson won’t have to move around so much.
Watson announced Jan. 31 he would play football at Mars Hill. It’s likely he will play inside linebacker for the Lions, who play in the tough Division II South Atlantic Conference.
Mars Hill finished 5-6 overall, 4-4 in the SAC. The head coach at Mars Hill is Tim Clifton, who just finished his 25th season at the Lions’ head coach.
Watson said he would receive a full scholarship from Mars Hill, which is not always the case with Division II schools. He has the chance on Feb. 5, the national signing day, to become the latest person associated with Watauga’s football team to have ties to Mars Hill since Habich and WHS Athletic Director Dustin Kerley also graduated from the college.
Watson said the Mars Hill staff want him to be a run-stopper, which is good news to Watson.
“They allowed me to play defense, which is my favorite position,” Watson said. “I just like the coaching staff and I really like what they are doing.”
Watson led the 13-2 Pioneers’ defense in tackles with 72.5 stops. Watson had 31 solo tackles, 83 assists and 8.5 of his tackles were for a loss. He also had 2.5 sacks for 17 yards in losses.
Watson was moved from outside linebacker to linebacker following the graduation of Eli Suggs and Ben Critcher, who both graduated from the 2018 team. It’s the position that Watson prefers to play in college.
“At linebacker, I’m always in the play no matter what they do,” Watson said. “There’s no way to take an inside linebacker out of the play, whether it’s pass coverage or run plays or outside sweeps. If I’m playing linebacker I’m all over the field, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Watson also said there is more action as an inside linebacker than at outside ‘backer, which appeals to him.
“Outside linebacker, if they ran to me that was great,” Watson said. “At inside linebacker, I’m running both ways.”
The SAC is home to Lenor-Rhyne (13-1), which was No. 4 in Division II last season in the final rankings. Fellow SAC member Wingate (10-2) was No. 19 and Carson-Newman (9-3) which was No. 20 last season. All three programs recruited Watson.
Watson’s final choice was between Carson-Newman, which wanted Watson to play tight end, and Mars Hill. He said he wants to study business while at Mars Hill.
Watson saw his prep career make a change when the Pioneers’ leading rusher in 2018, Bryce Satterfield, moved to Louisville, Ky. Watson, who played tight end in 2018, was switched to running back by Habich.
Watson worked at running back during all the Pioneers’ summer workouts, but fate intervened when Satterfield moved back to Boone to finish high school at Watauga. Habich, who coveted Watson’s blocking ability, moved the rising senior back to tight end.
That lasted five weeks. Satterfield tore two ligaments in his knee on special teams and was lost for the season. For a second time, Watson was moved to running back.
“Obviously I feel terrible for Bryce, since he was coming back from Louisville to play running back,” Watson said. “A lot of us are close to Bryce and it was just a shock to us because he’s never gone down. He’s always healthy and he’s not going to get hurt because he came back and he was having such a good season. It was really devastating to the team, but I knew that because Bryce went down, I was the next man up.”
Offensively, Watson gradually established himself as a running back who could deliver a shot while being tackled. He finished the season with 752 yards rushing.
He was also very tough to stop when the Pioneers got close to the end zone. Watson collected 21 touchdown runs, which was second on the team to quarterback Anderson Castle, who finished with 36.
“Coach Habich always said before camp that before we started actually practicing that we were all football players and that we didn’t actually have a position,” Watson said. “Being like a senior leader, I was just ready to fulfill whatever role I needed to play. It just so happened that I needed to play tight end and then I had to play running back again. I filled my role and did what I was needed to do.”
Make no mistake that Watson liked finding himself in the end zone after running the football. It didn’t take Watson long to decide which he prefers — delivering a crunching hit that keeps an opponent from reaching the end zone or scoring a touchdown.
“Definitely the big hit,” Watson said.
Playing two positions, one each on offense and another on defense, tested Watson’s endurance. Watson had made the commitment to increase his participation in the weight room. He was not very big when he first started to play on the varsity, but got himself strong enough to compete on the varsity level.
“Playing 160 or 170 plays, it’s tiring,” Watson said. “The conditioning I did over the summer and the conditioning I did on my own definitely paid off.”
It paid off to the point of earning a football scholarship.