Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Walk-on Watts kicks way up depth chart

Richard Anderson photo/Freshman walk-on Ian Watts kicks during Tuesday's practice.

By Richard Anderson

Ian Watts had planned to be in the stands watching the Wyoming-Texas football game at War Memorial Stadium a couple of weeks ago.

Instead, he kicked off to the second-ranked Longhorns.

On Saturday, Watts will handle the place-kicking duties for the Cowboys, as they return home for their Mountain West Conference opener against UNLV (1 p.m.).

Not bad for an un-recruited walk-on freshman.

To say the least, the last couple of weeks have been a lot more than he expected.

“I was told a few days before the first game against Weber State that I wouldn’t suit up for the first two games because I was a walk-on reporting on the first day of school,” Watts said on Monday. “I thought I would be sitting in the stands and all of the sudden I am kicking off against Texas. It was a shock, but it was a good shock. It came really fast, but I am excited to be here. I’m in a good place right now.”

Watts came to Wyoming from the Philadelphia area after a short, but successful high school kicking career at Radnor High School.

His quick progression on the football field gave him the confidence to go out and find a college to kick for.

“I felt I could start as a freshman, maybe kickoffs, get me playing time at least,” Watts said. “I really like the coaching staff and that helped my decision. You've got the offensive coordinator from Missouri, scoring a lot of points and Wyoming’s great defense with the offense. We should have it all. I really like that.”

Watts was perfect his senior season, although he attempted just two field goals. He was 19-of-19 on points after touchdowns.

“My problem was, although I was 100 percent on my extra points and field goals, our coach liked to go for it on fourth down,” Watts said.

Watts only competed two years at football, as his story is a normal soccer-player-turned-football-kicker tale.

“When the football team needs a kicker, they come over and say, “Who wants to kick?” I said, “I’ll give it shot and I did pretty well,’” he said.

While Watts was getting some interest from other schools, his decision to come to Wyoming was based some on the fact that last year’s kicker, Jake Scott, is a senior and Austin McCoy is more of a punter.

“With other schools, I would have had to go against a sophomore or freshman kicker and have to compete for three or four years,” he said.

With that said, his father, Bob, used the telephone to find his son a school.

Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen admitted that he was taken a little by surprise.

"His dad called me out of the blue and asked if his son could walk on here. I said, 'Fine, have him get in school and show up,” Christensen said. "He's an un-recruited walk-on that came from Pennsylvania to Laramie, Wyoming, that wanted to kick. Now, he's the starting place-kicker."

After his high school success, Watts competed this summer in the national combines in Denver and got a first look at the Rocky Mountain Region. For obvious thin-air reasons, he started looking in the region.

“My dad said, 'Guess what? They are the highest altitude team in the country,'” Watts said. “I always thought it was Colorado, but it is higher here. I was excited to come here. Last summer I was at the national combines in Denver and my punts were just sailing. I was like, ‘This is going to be great.’”

Then his dad and uncle joined him for the first time on Jonah Field to do some kicking.

“They were going so far. I was excited,” he said.

Christensen said that Watts, at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, has a strong leg, great lift on the ball and is accurate.

“He missed three weeks of camp, so when he first got here his timing was off,” Christensen said. "This isn't high school, we've got a certain time it's got to get off and he's never been put under those pressures. He has now in the last three weeks."

Watts said it is a nervous time for him, and he hopes the Wyoming offense can get going and get into the end zone … at least early on.

“I just hope for my first time I don’t have to go out for a 45-yard field goal,” he said with a smile. “I would like to work my way up with a few PATs to get a feel for things.”

With the Wyoming offense not scoring a touchdown in the lats nine quarters, Cowboy fans would like to see that as well.

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