When Bryce Watts suffered a fractured forearm against Boston College on November 3rd, the outlook for the rest of his season began to look bleak. However, his hard work and determination have allowed him to come back early and stronger than before at a position of great need.
Coming into the season, Virginia Tech knew that they were going to be thin in the secondary. After losing Terrell Edmunds to the draft, Adonis Alexander due to academic issues, and Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson to graduation, the Hokies had just one returning starter in the defensive backfield.
At corner, Bryce Watts was the only player who had played meaningful snaps. Caleb Farley, the starter on the side opposite of Watts, had just spent an entire year rehabbing from an ACL injury. Even before the injury, Farley had played receiver, not corner.
For all of these reasons, Watts was going to have step up into a leadership position. Even as a true sophomore, he was the closest thing to a "veteran" that the Hokies had at cornerback.
Against Florida State, the early indicator was that Watts was ready to take on this role. He tallied 6 solo tackles
against the Seminoles. Farley had a great debut including 2 interceptions, and the Hokies were able to hold the Seminoles to 233 yards
passing and no touchdowns.
Unfortunately, things quickly started falling apart after that. Watts did not play against William & Mary due to injury, and then came the Old Dominion game. Backup quarterback Blake LaRussa torched the Hokies for 495 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. He continually picked on both Watts and Farley throughout the day, and it kept working.
The struggles continued for Watts in the next four games. He did tally 3 pass breakups against Duke, but no tackles. In the next three games against Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech, he totaled just 5 tackles and 0 pass breakups.
The difficult season culminated for Watts on November 3rd. On the opening drive of the home game against Boston College, Watts went down holding his left arm
. After getting x-rays, Watts learned that he had a broken forearm, which the coaches said typically holds a player out for about 3 weeks.
That's what made it such a surprise when he returned two weeks later against Miami. The only game that Watts missed was the blowout loss to Pittsburgh, and even that upset him. He wanted to be able to help his team even sooner.
“They told me three weeks and I wouldn’t let myself not play," said Watts after the Miami game. "I had never missed a game before, I can't miss...Three days after I hurt it, it felt fine, so I was just like let me get back out there.”
Watts could have easily shut himself down after the injury. He was having some struggles, and he could have just taken the rest of a tough season off for a VT team in the midst of the longest losing streak of the Justin Fuente era. Instead, he hit the weight room and worked his way back onto the field in an incredibly quick fashion.
“I think it makes a statement about the young man, about his competitiveness, about his caring for his teammates,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster of his return.
In his first game back, Watts played fairly well. He had two tackles, and while he did not have any pass breakups, he was able to shut down the receivers he was covering with Miami only having 171 passing yards in the game.
“I love all my teammates and I’ll do anything for them,” said Watts on what motivated him to work back so quickly (via the Roanoke Times
He played decently well against Virginia, but it was the Marshall game that really served as his crowning achievement. He had easily his best game of the year against the Thundering Herd.
It was not just the stat sheet that was impressive for Watts. The timeliness of the plays that he made is what really made the difference.
After the Hokies scored a field goal on their first drive, Marshall drove it all the way down inside the ten-yard line. However, on third down, Watts ended the drive by intercepting a pass in the end zone. The Hokies then drove down the field for a touchdown, turning a potential 7-3 deficit into a 10-0 lead.
It was Watts' first career interception, and it could not have come at a better time. He had another crucial pass breakup on third down, and he largely prevented Marshall from getting the passing game going. In addition, Watts had a fantastic hustle play to bring down a Marshall running back inside the 5. While the Thundering Herd scored not long after, Watts made the type of play that you couldn't imagine someone with a fractured forearm making.
So, despite a tumultuous season, it seems that Watts is finally coming into his own. Sometimes, it is through adversity that a player experiences the most growth. It seems that Watts is taking that to heart as he enters the final portion of this season.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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