Nov. 14, 2002
Notre Dame, Ind. – Senior inside linebacker Courtney Watson was named one of three finalists for the 2002 Butkus Award, given to the nation’s outstanding linebacker. Watson joins Maryland’s E.J. Henderson and Oklahoma’s Teddy Lehman as finalists with the winner announced on Dec. 13 at the Butkus Award Gala hosted by the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando.
The native of Sarasota, Fla., Watson has had an outstanding season for the Irish in 2002 and has been a integral part of the Irish posting a 9-1 record and achieving a national ranking of ninth in the country. Watson has a team-high 81 tackles in 2002, including 44 solos. He has recorded eight tackles for loss this season and three sacks. He also has three interceptions, including a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown against Stanford in Notre Dame’s 31-7 win over the Cardinal.
The Fighting Irish defense, led by Watson, is one of the best in the nation in ’02. Notre Dame currently ranks ninth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense allowing only 14.5 points a game. They also have kept in check a powerful Air Force offense, which was leading the nation in rushing at the time they played Notre Dame, and potent Maryland, Michigan and Florida State offenses.
What makes Watson’s season even more remarkable is he missed Notre Dame’s first two games of 2002 – against Maryland and Purdue – with a severe viral infection, which landed him in the hospital for four days.
“It is such an honor for me to be named a finalist for this award.” Watson said.
“It is a credit to my teammates. You cannot be a good player without the support of your teammates and the good coaching around you. It means a lot to me to be mentioned in the same sentence with great players like E.J. and Teddy.”
“Courtney is a great leader,” head coach Tyrone Willingham says.
“When Courtney stepped back into the lineup after missing the first two games, it had such a calming effect on our entire football team. He is extremely disciplined, knowledgeable and has a tremendous will to be successful. He has helped make this football team extremely special.” Watson becomes only the second Notre Dame player to ever be named a finalist for the Butkus Award and the first in almost 15 years. Former Irish All-American Michael Stonebreaker placed third in the Butkus Award voting in both 1988 and 1990.
The Butkus Award, established in 1985, is presented to the nation’s best collegiate linebacker and is named in honor of the former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. A National Football League all-star seven times, he played in eight Pro Bowls before retiring from professional football in 1973. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.
For more information on Courtney Watson and the rest of Notre Dame’s All-America candidates, please visit http://und.ocsn.com/sports/m-footbl/all-stars.html.