With twice the heart, he overcomes one arm

November 01, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

Lucinda Watson always feared the worst. She envisioned her son Andrew getting hurt one day playing football and not being able to care for himself. He wouldn't be able to comb his hair, brush his teeth or feed himself.

And then about three years ago, Andrew came home with startling news.

"She really didn't know I actually made the team, and then I told her," said Andrew, the 5-foot-10, 201-pound senior starting right outside linebacker at Mervo High in northeast Baltimore. "I didn't tell her because I didn't want her to tell me I couldn't play. At first she was mad. But later she became happy because I made the team."

Andrew Watson, 17, was born and plays without a left arm. He's not just a part-time player, but a good one, good enough to start four games this season, including the last two, and rack up 19 tackles.

He has the nickname of "The Hit Man," a swagger and a passion, so much, in fact, that he says it's comparable to that of Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis. And you know something? The kid might be right.

Not only has he dusted off running backs, quarterbacks and receivers the past three years, but doubts from teammates, coaches and even Mom.

"I like the high impact and the speed of football," said Watson. "Ever since I was a kid, I've loved this game and how one person could impose his will on another person."

Oooo, football coaches love that kind of talk. They love action even more. Over the years, if Mervo coach John Blake needed a volunteer to demonstrate a drill, Watson's hand was always up first. When Watson was benched earlier this season, he easily could have quit. Instead, he worked harder to regain his starting job. He's the first in the weight room and the last one to leave.

That's the story of Watson: perseverance, hard work and plain old guts.

"In the face of adversity, he has given it 100 percent," said Blake. "He is a leader by example."

From the time Watson was 6, he always wanted to play football. He played catch with his brother in the yard, and participated in pickup games. But when it came time to join Pop Warner leagues, Lucinda's response was as forceful as a Lewis tackle.

Watson understood, but he wanted just one opportunity.

"I tried to talk her into it all the time, but no go," said Watson. "I always said to her, the love I have for the game, I would be willing to risk all of that."

And so he did.

About three years ago, Watson made the JV team. He got little playing time, but that was no big deal. He made it. He played JV most of last season, but was pulled up to varsity for special teams. Watson expected to have a big year this season, but somebody waved a red flag.

Again.

It was one thing to play special teams, another to play on the starting defense.

"This young man, over the course of time, had impressed me with his ability, so I didn't have any reservations whatsoever," said Blake, 51. "One coach did express a concern and he wasn't going to let him play. I spoke with his mother and she said to leave it in the hands of God. So, from then on, he just played."

Watson's preparation for this season was incredible. From early January until the season opener, he didn't miss one day of weight training, even when only four or five of his teammates showed up. The result was 12 pounds of added muscle. Watson, who is helped by two spotters, said he can bench-press nearly 200 pounds.

"I think of myself as a warrior," said Watson, "because I'm never going to quit, I'm going to keep fighting until the very end. Having one arm has always made me work harder to prove to everyone it wasn't a disability."

Watson starts on the right side, according to Blake, because they want to keep his right arm free to make tackles. Watson must be doing something right. Opposing teams haven't singled him out.

"I think over the last three years I have gained respect from everybody about what I can do on the field," said Watson. "There are no mean things said to me, just competition. All I ever wanted was to be treated like everybody else."

But he can't. Not every player is a team leader.

"He is one of the most popular players on the team, so they listen to some of the things he has to say," said Blake. "Here is a guy who comes to practice and is always on time. He always practices hard."

Blake calls him a throwback. As a coach for 18 years in both basketball and football, Blake has seen the attitudes of young players change. A lot of them aren't on time. A lot of them don't want to practice. Politeness is out, rudeness is in.

And then here comes Watson.

"My favorite story about him isn't football-related," said Blake. "Last year he brought a young lady to the ring dance. It was a throwback to my days at Poly when we believed in opening doors for girls and showed them attention. He was doing all the things a good, decent young man does. When he was with the young lady, he treated her like a young lady. That kind of tells you what kind of person he is."

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