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Fort Zumwalt East’s Watson wants wins, not individual numbers this season for Lions

Ben Watson [File photo, 2017]

The only numbers Fort Zumwalt East senior Ben Watson cares about this fall is wins.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound quarterback and defensive back owns several school records, putting up big numbers offensively for the Lions as a junior. He also set some school records.

“For myself, I would say I don’t care what I do this fall as far as statistics go,” Watson said. “I read somewhere that a freshman wants playing time, a sophomore gets playing time, a junior wants colleges to notice and a senior wants to win football games.

“I want our team to go above and beyond to win this year. I want us to win the conference championship that we haven’t won in I don’t know how many years and go deep in the playoffs. It really hit me this year that I could care less if I got offers from a D-I (Division I) schools. I want to win games as a senior.”

The Lions went 6-5 last fall and lost in the second round of the Class 4 playoffs by one point to Riverview Gardens. That fuels Watson going into this season.

“I was real close to the seniors last year,” Watson said. “I felt so bad for them that our season ended too soon. This year, we all want to go deep in the postseason and see what happens.”

Watson is coming off a junior year where he put up eye-popping numbers.

He led the St. Louis region in touchdowns scored with 39. He also added three 2-point conversions and he had four extra-point kicks for 244 total points.

Watson rushed for 2,217 yards on 287 carries. He averaged 7.7 yards a carry.

He completed 88 of 178 passes for 1,603 yards and 15 touchdowns. He had 13 interceptions. Watson also caught two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Watson had 15 tackles and picked off one pass.

As someone who helped out in every way possible, Watson also punted 19 times and averaged 30 yards a kick. He also kicked off. Watson also ran back two kickoffs and six punts.

With all that success, Watson did acknowledge he was a little disappointed after his breakout junior year.

“My goal was to be first team, all state. I was a little mad,” Watson said. “There’s always next year. Not getting first team was bad but losing in the second round of the playoffs was even worse.

“As a team, we had high expectations in the playoffs. We were playing very well. It was heartbreaking.”

Fort Zumwalt East coach Scott Eacret said Watson’s ability make his a dangerous quarterback.

“He’s always a dual-threat kind of kid,” Eacret said “He can throw the ball and he can run the ball. That’s the first thing you have to take into account with him. From a freshman to a junior, he truly had an understanding about reading the defense and responding. He’s very difficult to tackle in the open field.

“He’s not a dancer. He’s a one-cut-go kind of runner. He makes a cut and goes.”

Watson set the record for most passing yards in a game at 371 against Francis Howell North in 2016. Last season, he set the record for most rushing yards in a game against Howell North in with 315.

He set the single-season season rushing record in 2017 with 2,217 yards and rushing touchdowns in a season with 38.

“He’s got his name in the record books quite a bit,” Eacret said. “He’ll probably add to that this season. He’ll be real close for career rushing and passing yards as well. He’s going to make a strong run at both.”

Records are nice, Watson said.

“I was talking my principal (Brian Bishop) and my coach about records and they were telling me when I was in the seventh grade, and I don’t remember this, that I told them I was going to break as many records as I could at East,” Watson said. “It was a goal for me then I guess.

“My views have changed a little bit. The team is more important than records. I just want to win games as a team.”

As a sophomore, Watson gained 1,101 yards and had a 6.4 yard average per carry. He scored 12 touchdowns. He also went 78 of 126 passing for 1,191 yards and 13 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Defensively, he recorded 25 tackles and had four interceptions.

Watson was a running back as a freshman. He gained 301 yards on 51 attempts and scored six touchdowns. He also had 12 receptions for 131 yards. On defense, he had 27 tackles and one interception.

“We saw him coming up through the junior Lion program,” Eacret said. “We knew he’d be very competitive as a freshman. He started four or five games at cornerback for us and a little as a running back. He had a pretty good year for a freshman.”

It was a good start for him.

“I remember every vivid detail, ” Watson said of his freshman year. “I remember thinking I’ll work as hard as I can and make the varsity. I was not afraid to get my nose dirty. I was holding a clipboard and next thing I know coach called my number to go in and be on a cover team. The next game, I ended up going in and playing.

“Once I got on the field, it all felt natural.”

As a sophomore, Watson won the starting quarterback job.

He competed against junior AJ Hart.

“Our coach says you have to earn everything,” Watson said. “I completely agree. Me and AJ battled. I worked my tail off. When I was in the seventh grade, I wanted to be the starting quarterback. And I ended up winning the competition.”

Eacret was pleased with the performance. He thought he did well running the offense and playing behind a varsity line.

However, it did all go smoothly for Watson.

“Everything felt good. I was throwing good balls,” Watson said. “I made good reads. Then I got injured.”

In the sixth game at Washington, Watson sustained a dislocated elbow. He needed surgery.

He missed the remained of the season.

“It fueled the fire for me,” Watson said. “I worked even harder the next offseason to get ready. It helped me I think that I worked that hard.”

Eacret knows that.

“He’s a workaholic. He just has a real strong work ethic,” Eacret said. “He hasn’t changed since he was a sophomore.

“He’s a very good leader. Obviously, he has the respect of his teammates. He’s not a real vocal guy. He can be when he needs to be. He really leads by example.”

Watson did train different getting ready for this season.

In the past, Watson concentrated on weight training and working to get stronger. This past offseason, Watson had a different area of emphasis.

“I worked more on my throwing mechanics,” Watson said .”I want to be more explosive.”

He said he feels more comfortable with the football going into the season after going to Elite Football Academy and working one on one with a quarterback coach. He’s moving in the pocket better, too.

“No one will outwork me,” Watson said. “No one will out-grind me in the fourth quarter. I don’t care if you are bigger, stronger and faster and trained with a one-on-one coach six times a week.

“When it comes to Friday night, I’m going after it. I have no excuses.”

Playing in the games is what it’s all about for Watson.

“I mean any senior in America wants to play well in his last year,” Watson said. “I’ve been waiting since I was 9 years old to play football on Friday nights. This is my last season. I’m pretty excited.

“My memories of high school are of football. I don’t remember much of my freshman year besides football games. Each year, I just remember football, football, and football.”

The up-tempo offense is fun to run for Watson. He uses his skills best in it.

Last year, the Lions averaged 40 points a game.

“I love the way we spread the ball. I get the ball to our athletes,” Watson said. “I like the no-huddle. I don’t like wasting time. I don’t want to get slowed down.”

The offense gives Watson the ability to run and throw.

“I played running back in the third, fourth and fifth grades,” Watson said .”I’m not the fastest. I do enough to make people miss and I can run through arm tackles. I feel like I have good peripheral vision. I’m got good explosiveness coming out.

“To be a good passer, it helps having the athletes I do have. We run a lot of run-pass option plays. Our goal is to get the get ball out quickly. I believe I have a strong arm and can get the ball out.”

“He’s a general on the field,” Eacret said .”He’s got a great understanding of the defenses. He knows what to do.

“If he can be as good as he was last year I’ll be happy. He was a way of making the offensive

coaches look really smart.”

If teams this fall try to zero in on Watson, he is ready.

“I hope they try to stop me. I trust my guys around me and they’re all good,” Watson said. “We had a really good line last year and we’re going to have a young line this year but I feel like they will be ready and do a good job.

“They all have put in the work in the offseason and they are doing well in practice now. They’ll do really well I think.”

On the other side of the ball, Watson likes playing defense. As a safety, he has the best of both worlds.

He can hit someone. He can cover someone. He can pick off passes.

“I love playing safety. It’s so much fun to do,” Watson said. “Oh yeah, I’m not afraid to hit anybody even if it’s Ray Lewis.”

Watson is a three-sport athlete. He also plays basketball and runs track for the Lions.

“I’m just a football player trying to play basketball,” Watson said.

In track, Watson runs in three relays — the 4 x 100, the 4 x 200 and 4 by 400, which he said is his favorite.

After high school, Watson wants to play in college.

He had Army, Missouri S&T, South Dakota, Yale and Cornell interested in him.

“I’m going to make a decision after the season,” Watson said.

Eacret knows he will play somewhere in college.

“He’s not only a good athlete but he’s a really good student, “Eacret said. “He’s involved in the school community and in other extracurricular activities.

“He comes from a good family. There’s no downside to recruiting Ben Watson to play for you. That’s what I tell the college coaches that ask.”

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