THESE HANDS CATCH: A senior in the Wharton School from Bridgeville, Pa., about 15 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, Justin Watson is a standout wide receiver on the Penn football team. A two-time All-American, he led the Ivy League in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns the past two years, and was a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection both seasons. For the 2017 season, he was selected as a Preseason First-Team All-American, and was named to the watch list for the 2017 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award, which is presented to the outstanding offensive player in FCS football. Through the first three games of the season, Watson has 20 catches for 290 yards and 4 touchdowns.
IVY LEAP: Watson, who started playing football in fourth grade, says he chose Penn over offers from larger, football-focused schools because of the University’s “really good fit of academics and football.” “When the Ivy League comes knocking, that’s a really special thing,” he says. “My parents were the first ones in their families to go to college. Being the grandson of a steelworker in Pittsburgh, that’s pretty cool to make that leap into the Ivy League.”
TERRIBLE TOWEL: A Pittsburgh Steelers fan (“The Steelers are a religion out in Pittsburgh,” he says), Watson says former Steelers receiver Hines Ward was his favorite player growing up, and who he modeled his game after. “Obviously, he’s a great pass catcher and that’s always fun, but he always had a smile on his face when he was blocking, too,” he says. “That’s one thing our receivers coach [Rick Ulrich] talks about that separates a good receiver from a great receiver, someone that loves coming out and hitting.”
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Despite last season’s accolades and this year’s great prognostications, Watson says he doesn’t feel any added pressure to put up big numbers. “I always put really high standards and high expectations for myself, so I think that internal pressure has always kind of been there,” he says. “It’s fun; it really pushes you to better yourself every day.”
WORDS OF WISDOM: Asked what advice he would give to younger receivers, Watson says, “I’d say the most important thing for a receiver is paying attention to what you do without the ball in your hands, which I think a lot of people forget about. I think today, with all these flashy, one-handed highlights, people forget that you have to get open first, and you have to work on all the little routes, which can be tedious rather than just the one-handed catches that everyone loves.”
A FOOTBALL LIFE: After graduating next May, Watson says his goal is to keep playing football. “To get paid doing that would be a dream come true,” he says. If not, he’s considering a career in finance. He interned at finance companies during the past two summers and says he really enjoyed the experience. “I think there’s a career for me in finance,” he says. “I’m happy on that path as well.”