There is something special about senior year in high school. It’s a particularly bittersweet time in life; the pinnacle of the high school experience but also the final year enjoying the friendships and familiarities developed over several years.
For high school football players it’s a similarly sentimental time, as it marks the final season spent under the Friday night lights. We spoke with several NFL players to discuss what makes this time in life so unique, and to share some of the lessons they’d like to impart to the Class of 2012. Our first installment featured Rams rookie defensive end Robert Quinn and the lessons he learned during a trying senior year in high school.
This week's edition features Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson. A first-round pick out of Georgia in the 2004 draft, Watson spent the first six seasons of his NFL career with the Patriots, winning the Super Bowl in his rookie year.
Check back every Wednesday for the next four weeks for another installment of Senior Season.
Ben Watson has been involved in some huge games during the course of his football career. With the Patriots, he was a part of several crucial playoff contests, won a Super Bowl and contributed to a perfect regular season.
But if you ask him what game he remembers most distinctly in his career, he’ll take you back to South Carolina in 1997, when he was playing for the Trojans of Northwestern High (Rock Hill, S.C.).
"My most memorable single game was the state championship against Gaffney at Memorial Stadium," said Watson. "Even though we lost that game, the whole road to get there that season and playing for it all was so special."
His Trojans fell short of state glory in a 37-30 blockbuster battle, but the game remains a highlight of a stellar career for Watson.
"They always talk about the games you will never forget" said Watson. "And at the time I was probably like ‘yeah, yeah, whatever coach,’ but honestly that game against Gaffney still sticks out above some big college and pro games. I can just still remember the feeling, the bus ride, how it really meant everything to us."
The son of a college linebacker, Watson’s love for football was always strong, but it wasn’t until his family moved from his hometown of Norfolk, Va., to Rock Hill in the tenth grade that he became engrossed in a real football hotbed.
"My dad had told me that they take their football seriously down in this small town we were moving to, a move I didn’t even want to make," said Watson. "I get there and it was unbelievable; the entire town shuts down on Fridays, thousands of fans at the games in this small community. Our biggest rival was Rock Hill, and at the time there were only two schools in the town, and the games were always huge. One year they beat us and went to the state championship and the following season we beat them and went on to play in the state championship game, so it wasn’t just a rivalry in a small town — it was really good football."
Watson still marvels at the high school experience and how much he learned in those formative years.
"It’s amazing how quickly things change for you in the course of high school," said Watson. "You are a freshman looking up at these seniors like they are a world apart from you, and then three years later you are in that position. It’s a lot of responsibility being a senior; you are the leader not just on your team but in nearly every way. Just remember how you looked up to these guys when you were a freshman or sophomore, it’s how you are being viewed as a leader. It’s a time that you should really appreciate, because it goes by fast and I remember I was focused on that next year, on college, but there is nothing quite like the high school years."
Watson has enjoyed plenty of success during his football career, and last year he led the Cleveland Browns in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. But making sure to be prepared for life after football has always been a personal priority.
"For most high school football players it’s the last stop in their football careers," said Watson. "And really, even at the college level, it’s difficult to get to the professional level. That’s why you not only really need to enjoy the game while you have it, but also take the rest of your life seriously and what I really mean by that is your academics. That’s what you’ll really need in life; enjoy the cheering and playing the game, but it will end for everyone and there is a lot of life to be lived after football."