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Watt leaves legacy among offensive linemen

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 

Five years ago, Chris Watt was a highly-regarded recruit of Irish coach Charlie Weis. One year later, he was a practice-squad player with an incomplete understanding of the work it took to succeed on and off the field. 

Now in his final season with the Irish, the graduate student guard has evolved into an anchor on the offensive line, a leader and a mentor. 

“Just looking at these past four or five years, it’s crazy how fast it went,” Watt said. “Especially this season. It’s gone by extremely, extremely fast. You know, it’s weird to think going from where I was to where I am now, and all the people that I’ve been able to meet through this program, all the special people involved in this place.”

The Glen Ellyn, Ill., native is part of the last class to have joined the Irish under the tutelage of Weis and has seen changes in the program from top to bottom over the span of his career.  

“I guess I only have a small, slight perspective on it because I was only here a short time with Charlie,” Watt said. “It’s hard to speak about what happened then a ton, but as far as what happened when Coach Kelly came here, he brought a lot of changes to this program. Training tables … that’s a huge thing for us, changes to the players’ lounge. I think that’s the biggest thing for a coach coming in, just making positive changes that affect the program.”

Watt has been present for one of the biggest changes to occur within the program in recent years, what he identifies as a culture shift toward an approach that prizes hard work and initiative.

“There were good examples, but not always, when I was a freshman here,” he said. “And I think that’s a result of the culture. You know, maybe if I were in the same culture as they were then, maybe I would have been doing those same things.”

The offensive line culture has shifted even more dramatically over the past two years as a result of the arrival of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand prior to the 2012 campaign. 

“When Coach Hiestand came in, he did a great job of turning the offensive lineman culture around, as far as how we work together, and things like that.

“With Coach Hiestand it’s, ‘Alright, practice is over. Time to go get some extra work in, go eat and get some more work in with film.'”

Last season the Irish offensive line paved the way for one of the most efficient rushing attacks in the program’s recent history, while catching the attention of coaches and media members alike by consistently staying after practice for additional work. Kelly said Watt and graduate student tackle Zack Martin have helped lay the groundwork for what can be a successful unit for years to come. 

“Well, first of all, how they practice, the camaraderie of that unit, how they work, their work ethic,” Kelly said. “They have really shown those young players what it takes as a unit, as a group, in the weight room, on the practice field and how to stick together as a field. They have really shown that. Now, on the field, consistency of performance.”

Watt stepped into a starting role as a junior and has done so for 35 of Notre Dame’s last 36 contests. His only missed game during that span came against Navy on Nov. 2 this year following a knee injury sustained the previous week against Air Force. Setting a consistent positive example for younger linemen was a point of emphasis for Watt, but one that did not require him to go too far out of his way, he said.

“I think it was important. At the same time, it’s just the way we’ve always done it. Just going out there and being tough,” Watt said. “And the biggest thing is finishing: finishing plays and going full speed in whatever we are doing. And I think that’s important going forward, just showing players it’s important how you work and this is how you get it done. This is how you become a starter here.

“As a freshman coming in, you don’t really know what you want. You don’t really know what to do. You don’t really know how to work. If you are working out extra and doing the extra things on the field, they are going to do that. If you are at home sitting on your couch watching TV, hey, they are going to do that, too. Because they are going to see that. So just setting that example week-in, week-out.”

Now as someone Kelly appreciates as a model leader on the field, Watt found it difficult to balance his schedule early on in his collegiate career.  

“Obviously, coming in I was maybe a little bit immature,” he said. “Just being able to understand how to work around here. And I think it takes a couple years for everyone, as far as time management.”

Watt graduated with a degree in Marketing in May and has served as a leader of the school’s marketing club, both evidence of the maturity he has developed within the football program, as well.

“Kind of my freshman year I wasn’t doing things right,” Watt said. “Just being a scout-team player, which is an important role, you just don’t have a direct role in how the game goes. So I was having a little too much fun, not studying as much as I should have. So after first semester I realized I had to care about school a little bit more. Then I had a really good experience when I started in the business school my sophomore year. I had some great professors that led me to be a marketing major and decide to apply for the vice-president of the marketing club. And the two presidents were gone when I was there, so I was kind of like the interim. And so that was a pretty fun role I had here for a little bit.”

This year Watt has been working with the Notre Dame Alumni Association in conducting presentations on brands relevant to young alumni, including VitaminWater. 

“I think this place does a great job of setting you up past football,” Watt said. “And I’m looking forward to hopefully having the opportunity of playing in the NFL next year. And if not, definitely have a good situation that I’ve sort of set myself over the past three years.”

With only two regular-season contests and a potential bowl game remaining in his collegiate career, Watt said he has already begun to consider the importance of his final home game.

“I’ve been thinking about it the last few days, like what it’s going to feel like,” he said. “You know, the last time actually slapping the ‘Play Like a Champion’ sign, things like that. I think maybe taking it all in, but at the same time just trying to stay as focused as possible.”

Watt has seen a lot during his time with the Irish, but he pinpointed what have been the highlights for him without much difficulty.

“Definitely my teammates here,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for better teammates. My roommates, as well, Zack [Martin], [senior quarterback] Tommy [Rees], [graduate student linebacker Dan] Fox, and then [former Irish tight end Tyler] Eifert, as well, last year, just a bunch of great guys. And just the people I’ve met here. 

“And then just some of those unbelievable games we’ve had. You know, [beating] Utah in coach Kelly’s inaugural season [in 2010] – that was a big win. That was also my first time kind of being a huge part of the game plan. And the national championship run last year.”  

When he does finally run out of the tunnel on senior day for the last time, Watt will do so in communion with his teammates, friends, family and the entire University.

“Just having a lot of pride in this university and how we play is very important,” he said. “Just being able to go out there and wearing that helmet on the field is bigger than the individual.”

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu