Meet Desmond Watson, AKA Florida's new 432-pound wrecking ball of a defensive tackle
Whether he’s busting through a double team or front-squatting 375 pounds with ease, it doesn’t take very long to spot Desmond Watson. Scroll through the program at whatever game he’s playing in and he’s sure to make one pause. Watch a routine practice of Watson’s and you’ll find yourself watching his every move.
After all, it’s hard not to notice the dude who clocks in at 6-5, 432 pounds.
Well, he’s up a bit from the 375-380 pounds he played at during his senior year at Armwood High School in suburban Tampa. Florida fans didn’t take long to become familiar with the true freshman. The early enrollee already made quite the impression on his new team in spring practice, and not just because he’s a fun-loving, 432-pound guy rocking No. 21 (he also wore that number in high school). Dan Mullen said “thankfully we have the equipment to even weigh (Watson) right there up at 440″ and that Watson will need to lose a “12- or 13-year old” to get in the right type of playing shape (via the Gainesville Sun).
Watson could theoretically lose 75 pounds and still be heavier than Stewart Reese, who is the second-biggest player on Florida’s roster at 350 pounds. Even against his fellow Florida linemen, Watson’s size is impossible not to notice:
I still just 😦 every time I see Desmond Watson. Dude is huge. pic.twitter.com/3kSAeFKFbI
— Bailiegh Carlton (@BailieghCarlton) February 20, 2021
#Gators DL drills:
Big Desmond Watson and Daquon Newkirk pic.twitter.com/fRrLIpwp0G
— Jacquie Franciulli (@JacquieFran_) February 22, 2021
Florida defensive end Zachary Carter was asked if he had ever seen anyone as big as Watson, to which replied with a simple “no,” but then added, “Hey but that’s what we breed in Tampa. That’s the kind of guys we breed in Tampa. But I’m really excited for Big Des. He’s going to have a bright future. He’s a thick kid, though. Thick kid. Dang.”
They certainly don’t breed them all like that in Tampa.
As Carter said, Watson is the definition of a thick kid. He’s always had wide hips and a lower half unlike anyone he matches up against. Hence, the 375-pound front squats. Watson’s Armwood High School coach, Evan Davis, confirmed that those front squats end in him getting in “full catcher’s stance,” too. There’s also his back squats and bench, which are at well over 500 and 400 pounds, respectively.
“I don’t think people understand. The number 440 (pounds) was thrown around, but if you stand next to him, he doesn’t have this huge gut,” Davis told SDS. “He’s got a thick lower body. He’s just a big human being. He’s also strong … I don’t know if he’ll be able to get down to 350. I don’t know if biologically, it’ll happen.”
At Armwood, Watson became a force, and not at the 330 pounds he was listed as on MaxPreps. As a junior, he racked up 34 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and 3 pass breakups. That’s what helped him garner offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and plenty of others (via Hudl).
“I never really saw anybody with 2 guys who could stop him,” Davis said. “You can try to double him mass-wise, but that means you’ve got to be able to put bodies on him. He’s so quick that it’s hard to get hands with 2 guys on him each time.”
That’s part of why Watson is so unique. A guy flirting with 400 pounds — at least like he was during high school — isn’t supposed to move like he does. As Davis said, “he puts on weight so fast, but it’s not like it’s anything crazy.” Watson isn’t from a super-sized family, though he clearly has good genes. He’s mom has an athletic build at roughly 5-11 (according to Davis), but go figure that Watson’s brother was Darrian McNeal, who was a 5-9, 163-pound slot receiver at Oregon.
In addition to being surprisingly light on his feet, Davis said Watson is the guy who knows what all 11 players on the defense are supposed to do at all times. He can point it out during a game, and he can break it down when he watches the film.
Football IQ isn’t lacking, and believe it or not, neither was the physical conditioning.
“He probably played 90-95% of the snaps for us,” Davis said. “People think he’s some sloppy, out of shape guy. He’s not. At all.”
Watson did have his limits. While Davis occasionally put him in for goal-line sets as a blocker, the goal was never to turn him into William “Refrigerator” Perry with the 1985 Chicago Bears. To Davis’ surprise, Watson never wanted to do that.
He also never wanted to be recruited as an offensive lineman. As tempting as it would’ve been for a college coach to look at Watson’s size and assume his future was at guard, he maintained that he wanted to stay on the defensive side of the ball to utilize those quick hands.
The 247sports comp for Watson, who was the No. 23 defensive tackle and No. 369 recruit in the 2021 class, was Terrence Cody. The similarities between the 2 are obvious. Both are from Southwest Florida, and both were fleet of foot despite the fact that they each weighed over 400 pounds at one point. Before he became known as “Mount Cody” as a 2-time All-American in Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama, Cody started at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Watson, on the other hand, is hoping to play immediately as a true freshman in the SEC.
Florida would certainly welcome the idea of Watson making major strides this offseason and cracking the defensive tackle rotation. Gone are starting defensive tackles Marlon Dunlap and Kyree Campbell. If Watson can carve out a role that warrants 40-50 snaps as a game as a true freshman, that’ll be a major step in Year 1.
Of course, the best chance of that happening will be if he can shed some of that weight in the strength and conditioning program. That’s why Watson got to Florida in January as opposed to July. Even though he won’t get a spring game, Watson is still hoping to reap the benefits of getting that head start.
So how should the Florida staff manage him?
“Don’t be soft on him,” Davis said. “Be hard on him. He wants to be coached hard. He wants to be great. I think they’ll do that. I think they’ll push him and hold him to that standard because that’s what he wants.”
Eventually, Watson wouldn’t mind following in the NFL footsteps of Cody. Davis, who plans on taking his family up for plenty of Florida games this fall, said that Watson is working toward a much bigger picture goal, starting this offseason.
“We’ve talked and said that what he does for the next 4 years of his life will dictate what he does for the next 50-60 years,” Davis said. “If he does the right things at the University of Florida, the NFL will be in his future. I don’t think that’s a crazy thing to say.”
In the meantime, Watson will prepare to help out a Florida run defense that ranked No. 71 nationally with 170.5 rushing yards allowed per game. That was magnified in Florida’s 3-game losing streak to end the season, during which it surrendered 267 rushing yards per game. Granted, the Cotton Bowl skewed those numbers a bit when the Sooners went off for 435 rushing yards on 10.9 yards per carry.
Watson can help take care of an immediate need in 2021. If all goes according to plan, he’ll ultimately get to the snap share total he had playing in Davis’ defense at Armwood. Big Des has some big expectations.
Don’t be surprised if two guys aren’t enough to slow down No. 21.