NDSU WR on Christian Watson: “Everyone knew he was the alpha in the room”

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 08 FCS Championship
FRISCO, TX – JANUARY 08: North Dakota State Bison wide receiver Christian Watson (1) catches the football for a first down during the FCS Championship game between the North Dakota State Bison and the Montana State Bobcats on January 8, 2022 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)

North Dakota St. has become by far the best FCS School in the country over the last decade. 11 years, 9 National Championships. An unprecedented run across the FCS landscape that has produced some excellent NFL players. Christian Watson is no exception.

From QB’s like Carson Wentz and Trey Lance, to a newcomer rising the NFL ranks, NDSU has been a major player in the draft pool for NFL franchises. Their latest stud, Christian Watson, turned heads at the Senior Bowl with an excellent blend of speed and catching ability. Beginning as a day three candidate in the draft, Watson’s stock continues to rise, and a strong showing at the combine could solidify himself in the top two rounds of the draft.

With all the hype surrounding Watson, I sat down with WR Coach of NDSU, Noah Pauley to discuss his career and how it was like coaching a rising star like Watson.

You started coaching at NDSU in 2019. What made you want to go to an FCS Power like NDSU?

Obviously, the tradition behind North Dakota St. is unmatched. Not just the championships they won, but the players and coaches they’ve done it with over the last decade is what drew me to NDSU and I continue to challenge myself professionally in my career.

You mentioned your overall career – what do you think would be your end goal from a coaching perspective?

I’m just trying to go as far as I can and coach at the highest level possible. Every job I’m in I’m going to give it my all and do the best I can to support my players and make sure that their goals are accomplished. Just taking this profession year by year, season by season and kind of see where it takes me.

One of those players that has dominated under your coaching is Christian Watson. What is he like to coach?

He is an unbelievable kid. First off he has a very high football IQ. And that is what I think has really helped him to be so versatile in what we ask him to do at North Dakota St. He’s not just the 6’4″ outside receiver. You watch tape, and he’s in the slot, he’s in the backfield, he’s doing kick returns, he can be on every special teams unit if you need him to be. That goes a lot into his success but just a good person overall. He works hard every day in practice. He takes pride in individual drills, team drills. Everything matters to him which is fun to coach and fun to be around a guy like that.

What do you think Watson needs to improve on the most as he prepares for the NFL Combine?

This time of year is always tough because you are not catching footballs every single day. So just continuing to stay on top of those daily things that you can lose quick. Just staying on top of catching footballs and stuff we talk about in season. And moving into the last season with us we looked to continue to refine your intermediate routes. We know he can run by a lot of guys, he’s a really good vertical threat but now continuing to expand your game as far as slot routes, intermediate routes on the outside all those little things that go into it to continue to refine those things.

You mention how great a kid Watson is, but from a leader perspective, what have you seen from him?

You know Christian has really grown into becoming a leader of a team and our position group. There was two years where there was a captain in our room, he wasn’t one of them, but everyone knew he was the alpha in the room, and kind of ran the room. Nothing against the captain we had, as he was tremendous as well, it’s just that Christian has that attitude, and demeanor in that he’s going to lead people in our room. He was never going to just worry about himself. He was always trying to get the young guy better., the guy behind him in line and sometimes say ‘c’mon go do that rep again’ and those type of things. He knows what we expect in our program and he displayed that every single day at practice and in games.

What have you seen Watson improve at the most?

That’s a good question. I think he has improved his route-running a lot and mixing up his releases. That was one thing from the 2019 season and on that we tried to do was changing him to instead of just beating guys with speed (and he could) but when guys continued to play further off, and open their hips and run with him, so he’s done a better job of mixing up his releases to get those defensive backs on their heels a little bit more, and give him that much more of an advantage when route-running.

In terms of the Senior Bowl, he turned a lot of heads. Were you surprised with the success he had at the Senior Bowl in Mobile?

To be honest, I didn’t. I didn’t at all. I knew that he probably wasn’t at the level he could have played at. He was undersized coming out of HS, didn’t have a lot of looks and took advantage of the opportunity. We all know his physical attributes and he can match up with just about anyone. Just the way he runs, bends and moves, I think he’s just a good football player whether he’s playing against FCS talent or FBS talent. Football is football and I think he went out and showed that at the Senior Bowl. There were question marks from scouts when the season started and I think he checked all the boxes for those guys and answered all the questions for those guys at the Senior Bowl so that was exciting to see.

Is there a particular team that you would hope would take a chance on him on draft day as a player or person?

I don’t know if I particularly have an exact team, I just think a guy like Christian, should be going into a room with good veteran leadership. He’s going to soak up so much information. He has a true desire to continue to learn the game. If he can do it from guys that have been in the league and doing it from years on end then that is going to be great for him. Kind of like how Trey Lance coming out. I think Trey landed at a perfect spot (in San Fransisco) sitting behind Jimmy-G and learn from him and has had a lot of success in this league. I think the same thing for Christian. Not that I don’t think Christian can make an impact, but I just think going in and learning from pros, the day-to-day, hour-to-hour stuff that takes to be great that’ll be big for him.

What have you told Christian in order to prepare him for the NFL combine?

Christian and I are close. We stay in touch and connect weekly here. I would just tell him to be himself. That’s really it. He’s worked extremely hard the last three years to get to this point. His goal this year was to make it to the senior bowl, and he checked it off his list. His goal was to make it to the combine and he checked that off too. He’s just got to continue to do the things that got him to this point, and things will take of it themselves. He’s never a guy that looks to high or too low. He’s pretty even-keel. Those things don’t make me nervous, just go in and perform and be yourself, be you, and whatever may happen let the things take care of it themselves.

It’s clear that Christian Watson has all the tools to succeed in the NFL. A strong combine will only help his chances and improve the already impressive rap sheet that North Dakota St. and their coaching staff has across college football.

Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire

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