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Florida State pledge impresses PSU staff at practice, picks up offer
Kenyatta Watson II is accustomed to college football coaches showing interest. He received his first scholarship offer as a freshman, now carries nearly 30 of them, and verbally committed to Florida State last month.
The Grayson (Ga.) High School sophomore hasn’t seen his recruitment slow down since joining the Seminoles’ 2019 class. Instead, he’s added offers from Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and several other schools since issuing that April 8 pledge.
“You meet all these coaches, then go on about your day knowing that you’re committed somewhere but staying open to options,” Watson said. “Balancing it is about staying humble and focusing on the main goal.”
Despite this recent momentum, Penn State managed to pull off a surprise when it offered Tuesday. Watson believes he also surprised the Nittany Lions.
“I don’t think they really knew who I was or that I even played at Grayson,” he said.
If this was indeed the case, coach James Franklin’s staff showed up on a fortuitous day earlier this month to observe a spring practice at the Peach State powerhouse.
“They saw me get a couple of interceptions and come downhill to hit,” Watson said.
His performance and physicality didn’t go unnoticed.
“I just remember them asking ‘Who’s he?’ ” Watson recalled. “My defensive backs coach let them know who I was, then they asked me to come over to say hello and size me up, I guess. They liked seeing me play cornerback at my size.”
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound prospect follows in the footsteps of 2017 Grayson graduates DeAngelo Gibbs and Jamyest Williams. Considered safety and cornerback recruits, respectively, both were considered top-10 prospects at their position in 247Sports’ composite rankings as seniors.
Gibbs enrolled at Georgia in January, while Williams heads to South Carolina this summer.
“They helped instill leadership in me and now I’m stepping into that role,” Watson said. “Last year, I wasn’t much of a leader and I didn’t really talk that much. I just led with my play. This year, I don’t really have that option. I’ve got younger kids looking up to me, as I looked up to D-Lo and Jam.”
He plucked particular elements of each player’s skill set to carry with him on the field for future Grayson games.
Watson gained perspective on the artistry of pass coverage from Williams.
“Jam taught me a lot about patience at cornerback,” he said. “Being patient with the receiver and not trying to jump routes too fast or come up with a big pick every play. That’s not what it’s about at the position. You need to have good timing.”
Gibbs provided an example of how to punish opponents.
“I learned to come with that stick by watching D-Lo,” Watson said. “If you’re going to run up on somebody, come with a mentality that you’re going to take their helmet off.”
Watson displayed the blend of both assets early and often when the scouting eyes of Happy Valley ventured down to Georgia. Within a few days, Nittany Lions defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Brent Pry called Grayson and added another offer to the growing pile.
Blessed to have been offered by Penn state🔹▫️🔹 pic.twitter.com/rR1VyCNZQd
— Kenyatta Watson II (@ballhawk36) May 9, 2017
“This wasn’t anything I expected – I didn’t know you could get this many [early] offers, if I’m being honest,” he sad. “When I got that first offer [in April 2016], it was kind of like, ‘Oh, cool. I’m going to school for free.’ But I didn’t expect it to keep going to this extent.”
This frankness is justified, considering Watson’s freshman season was his first time starting at defensive back for any football team.
Given his pedigree – father Kenyatta Watson played receiver at Boston College, spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and is a major force in Georgia’s youth football scene – perhaps it was only a matter of reps before the pieces came together.
He is already extremely experienced on the recruiting trail, confirming this sentiment when asked about past campus visits.
“If it’s on the East Coast, I’ve probably been there,” Watson said.
So why did he opt for an early commitment to Florida State in the midst of mounting interest from across the country?
Watson sees an immediate opportunity in Tallahassee.
“My thinking was if I’m going to end up at a school on a football scholarship, I want to have a chance to play,” he said. “Yes, the education is the most important thing to me, but alongside that I just felt like it would be a good place for me to develop as a defensive back.”
— Kenyatta Watson II (@ballhawk36) April 9, 2017
A former Seminoles standout presents a model for how Watson hopes to craft his overall approach in the coming years.
“Jalen Ramsey is someone I always looked up to because he played all throughout the secondary: corner, safety and all types of stuff,” he said.
Watson feels his package as a defender could someday compare. The same versatility that stood out to Penn State’s staff may eventually increase during upcoming upperclassman campaigns.
“I still have a lot of room to grow in these next two years, and my coach here at Grayson said if I end up gaining 20 more pounds and get bigger, he’s going to put me in the box,” Watson said.
A hybrid defensive back/outside linebacker role is possible. So is a visit to Happy Valley.
Watson shared that a family member is enrolling at the university this fall, and that may encourage him to spend some time in State College.
He mentioned Clemson and Michigan as possible hosts this summer, though no itinerary is established.
Watson often travels with teammate Owen Pappoe, the top-ranked linebacker in 247Sports’ 2019 rankings. Penn State offered Pappoe earlier in the 2019 cycle, though the Nittany Lions have that in common with most Power 5 title contenders.