New back in town

Watauga running back Jake Watson takes a shove from head coach Ryan Habich while quarterback Anderson Castle keeps the ball during a spring practice drill.

When Watauga running back Bryce Satterfield moved to Louisville, Ky., to be with his family — his father Scott Satterfield accepted the head football coach position at the University of Louisville — Watauga head coach Ryan Habich had to find a replacement.

Watauga has no shortage of athletes to take Bryce Satterfield’s place.

Habich chose somebody who had played the position in Watauga’s junior varsity team two years earlier. That player, Jake Watson, was the Pioneers’ tight end in 2018.

This season, he steps into the glare of a spotlight created by Satterfield, a two-time All-Northwestern Conference player who gained 1,661 yards and scored 23 touchdowns.

Watson did not handle the ball nearly as much in 2018. He caught four passes for 23 yards, but one of those catches went for a touchdown.

That will change once the Pioneers open the season Aug. 23 against T.C. Roberson.

“I feel good filling in the spot that Bryce left open,” Watson said. “I played there in my freshman and sophomore years. The coaches are teaching me the plays and I’m picking it up fast. (Quarterback) Anderson (Castle) is doing a great job of showing me the things that Bryce would do when it comes to reads and all that.”

Habich said on the surface, the Watauga offense will not look different with Watson at running back instead of Satterfield. He said Watson does not have Satterfield’s speed or quickness, but has more power.

Habich feels Watson has the potential to stand out at running back.

“He’ll bring a different look to the position,” Habich said. “He’s so powerful. He’s such a great blocker and he’s athletic too, so he’s going to bring a different dynamic to the position that will really help us out this year.”

Watson brings a more traditional fullback look to the Watauga offense. He learned how to block by playing tight end, which often plays the role of a pass-catching offensive tackle in the Watauga offense.

And since he is the lone setback when the offense is on the field, Watson will be asked to get the tough yards between the tackles.

“Coach Habich likes to tell the quarterback that in doubt give it,” Watson said. “Coach Habich said I’ll be a guy who will get two yards every time, even if we get it by accident. All that we can ask for is not getting any negative yards.”

Watson knows expectations are high when it comes to the running back position. Evan Suggs, the running back before Satterfield, is currently a running back at Wofford.

And though Eric Breitenstein did not play for Habich, he is the yardstick by which all Watauga running backs are measured. Breitenstein also played at Wofford, where he became the college’s all-time leading rusher.

Watson said the best way he can reach those expectations is simple — just work hard.

“Bryce had a really good year, but I don’t feel any pressure,” Watson said. “I’m just going to come out here and put in work every day and do what I practice Monday through Thursday and then give it all I have Friday night.”

He knows he has help. Castle is coming off an all-conference season despite missing the first six games because of injury. Two-time All-NWC player Jaiden Bond returns at a wingback position, All-NWC receiver Grant Oliver returns and three Watauga offensive linemen, two-year All-NWC center Sterling Sauls, guard Adrian Cassidy and tackle Dakota Silvers, return to the lineup.

Watson knows that without the big guys blocking up front, he is not likely to reach the high numbers that Satterfield, or any other past Watauga runner, can reach.

“I’m definitely going to get a lot more touches, and that will be nice, but playing tight end make me realize how important your linemen are and all your blockers and all those guys who don’t get the credit,” Watson said. “It’s really them making the holes for me and giving me the ability to run through the holes they make.”

Watson also knows that the difference from playing running back on the junior varsity level to the varsity is more than physical.

“On the JV team, you might be able to get away with a couple of wrong cuts or running through the wrong holes,” he said. “When you get on varsity, if you make the wrong cut, a touchdown play turns into a two-yards gain or negative yards. You have to read blocks better.”

Watson has another responsibility that Satterfield didn’t have to worry about. Watson played outside linebacker on an experienced Watauga defense in 2018, while Satterfield generally did not play defense.

Watson will stay on the defensive side of the ball, where just four starters return. Conditioning takes on more importance for Watson, who isn’t likely to get the rest that Satterfield enjoyed while the Pioneers were on defense.

“I know I have to be in the best shape I’ve ever been in if I want to be able to compete on a high level on offense and defense,” Watson said. “I think my coaches are going to do a good job of preparing me and I’ll put in the work on and off the field too.”

Habich has seen others play similar dual roles.

“The key is for him is to be able to play outside linebacker too,” Habich said. “It’s going to be very similar to what Evan Suggs did in 2016. He was a linebacker and was the Defensive Player of the Year, so Jake is going to be in that kind of mold.”

It’s a mold that Watson looks forward to filling.

“It’s a fun change,” Watson said. “Obviously, I get to touch the ball almost every single play than I did at tight end.”

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