April 15, 2003
by Bridget Veihmeyer
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – With the loss of key players like Shane Walton, Arnaz Battle, and Jeff Faine, along with most of the offensive line, the Irish are looking for younger players to step up this year and fill the voids. However, one thing both fans and members of the Notre Dame football program can depend on is the leadership of inside linebacker Courtney Watson. In choosing to forgo the NFL draft and spend another year at Notre Dame, the fifth-year senior brings back knowledge, experience, and the desire to help the team expand on last year’s success.
“A lot of guys like to leave early and make some money, but for me, coming back for two more semesters here and getting to spend time with my teammates is great,” Watson said.
“The ultimate goal for everyone here is to make it to the professionals, but doing that now would be putting my individual goals ahead of the team. I think we have a very good shot at being very good this year.”
Watson’s accomplishments last season made him one of three finalists for the prestigious Butkus Award, which recognizes the best collegiate linebacker in the country. Last year, he led the team with 90 tackles, even after missing three games due to illness and injury. His impact was largely felt in the Florida State game when he intercepted a Chris Rix pass, which led to the eventual go-ahead score. He also helped preserve a 39-year winning streak vs. Navy with an interception late in the game.
Watson, however, is not focused on personal achievements or statistics.
“I set individual goals, but that’s not what is in the forefront of my mind,” he said.
“I want our defense to be one of the top five in the country, and I want our team to have the chance to play for a national championship. Those are the things that are most important to me.”
Although the Irish finished as one of the top defensive teams in the country last season, Watson is not yet satisfied. Personally, he is looking to continue being a playmaker this year and leading the defense, making contributions in any way possible. From a team standpoint, he believes the focus should be on finishing the games better.
“When we have opponents down, we need to finish stronger,” Watson said.
“That was evident in the last few games of the season, and there are a lot of places you can look — as individuals, as a team, as a unit, where we just need to work on that.”
In his last year here, Watson will surely offer his leadership to help the Irish improve in this area, and in doing so, inch closer to attaining the team’s common goal.
“Everyone is shooting for a national championship,” he said. “For much of last season, we were in that race, so we’ve tasted it, and we know what it’s like to be close. Hopefully everybody’s hungry and they want to get back to that point.”
— ND —