Watters keeps pro dreams alive
By Matt Gengler, Sports Editor
The adjustment from high school to college can be either a smooth or difficult transition, depending how open the individual is to change, advice and adversity. West Harrison graduate Jeremiah Watters has seen a full array of all three, but yet, he perseveres as he continues his journey toward the ultimate goal of strapping on the pads for a pro football team.
“I’ve come a long way since just starting out wanting to play basketball as a high school freshman,” stated Jeremiah Watters. “I played two years of football for Coach (Craig) Birdsall, but still went on and played college basketball at Simpson in Indianola. But everyone I hung around with kept telling me, you have to find a way onto the football team.”
Watters played college basketball and ran track at Simpson, but after his second and third year, he redeveloped his passion for playing football again. He picked up some advice from the receivers coach, former Iowa State Standout Todd Blythe, as Blythe still had connections with then Head Coach Paul Rhoads at Iowa State University.
“Blythe told me that if you can prove you are good enough, Rhoads will give you a shot at Iowa State,” Watters said. “Coach Rhoads is probably one of the best guys I have ever met. I played on the practice squad for two years, and even though I took a beating those two years, he was the one who helped me find my love for the game once again. When you get the right coach in the right situation, it makes a huge difference and they do make an impact.”
Watters has also had stops at Iowa Western in Council Bluffs, Iowa Central in Fort Dodge and Northwestern College in Orange City.
“When I was at Iowa Central, Coach Adam Kuhl was another football coach who believed in me,” Watters added. “He saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself, and he pushed me 10 times harder than anyone else. He tried me at multiple positions, and by the second year, it gave me the confidence and I started to believe in myself.”
Watters learned a lot about himself, not only as a player, but as a person. He’s had influences such as West Harrison Football Coach Craig Birdsall and former West Harrison Basketball Coach Aaron Perkins that have pushed Watters beyond his own capabilities.
“We butted heads on several occasions, as we didn’t see eye-to-eye on several different topics,” Watters laughed. “But at this point of my life, they are my biggest role models, because they pushed me beyond what I thought I could do.”
Watters has made a couple of stops in the Arena Football League in Florida, and now he has transitioned to the Baltimore Lightning, a full-fledged National Football League developmental league. They receive all the perks of being a professional player, and the pro team, Baltimore Ravens, has first dibs on any of the developmental prospects. Watters also had the opportunity to workout with the Indianapolis Colts, but he got hurt at his combine and it didn’t work out.
“A player and a man go through a lot of hardships and difficult times,” Watters added. “But they are life-changing experiences that you never forget. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, and I’ve become a better person for it.”
The Baltimore squad, which plays in the Gridiron Developmental Football League, takes the best of the best. If anything is going to give Watters a chance, it will be this league. He’s also received a couple looks from the Canadian Football League.
“I used every possible year I could playing multiple sports, and even though the journey didn’t end the way I wanted it to in college, it has taught me so much as far as life experience goes. I still stay in contact with both my college football and basketball teammates, as we are all going through the same type of life stuggles at this point.”
Watters encourages all current junior high and high school athletes to be active in multiple sports, as it will only help develop the competitive fire from within.
Watters, the son of Debbie Watters and Earl Watters, is a 2010 graduate of West Harrison. His grandfather played football for the United States Marines, and talked Jeremiah into going out for football in high school.
“I had my mind set that I was only going to play basketball when I got here,” stated Jeremiah, who’s family moved up from Omaha, Neb., when he was a freshmen. “My grandfather, who passed away last June, was my biggest supporter. He was the one who convinced me to go out and give football a try, and I’m sure glad I did.”
Jeremiah has learned humility along this journey.
“You see a ton of talented players at every stop, and you just learn to appreciate the gifts that you have,” Jeremiah concluded. “I’ve seen so many talented players lose their chance due to injury. I’m just extremely blessed to have an opportunity to play.”