FARGO — Enjoy Christian Watson while you can. The size and speed, the hands, the exuberance with which he plays. Appreciate it all.
The senior receiver says this is his last year at North Dakota State, despite having one more season of eligibility available because of COVID. Watson said Thursday at the Bison's annual media day that once NDSU's 2021 season is over, he'll begin preparation for the 2022 NFL Draft.
He'll graduate in December with a degree in general studies. He redshirted one season, so this is his fifth year in the program.
"I'm done with college after this year," he said.
So there's no chance he'll go the Jabril Cox route and transfer to a big-time Football Bowl Subdivision program to get a taste of that world and perhaps bolster his draft stock? There's been speculation that might be an option.
"No. I started college as a Bison and I'm going to end as a Bison," Watson said.
Well, that's a piece of news to start what was already expected to be an interesting NDSU season.
The Bison get one more season with their top deep-ball threat and All-America kick returner. One more season for offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl to utilize the 6-foot-5 burner from Tampa, whose presence the last couple of seasons gave NDSU's offense a dimension it had previously lacked — a big receiver who can fly.
It would behoove NDSU's offensive coaches to utilize Watson's skills in as many ways as possible, to get him the ball however they can.
"It'd be foolish of us not to," Roehl said. "He's multiple. We need to find a way to get him the ball from a running game standpoint, quick throws just to get him the ball in space, yet be able to utilize his speed to take the top off the defense."
In other words the Bison will use Watson as they've used him since 2019, the year he broke out to become a dynamic threat with both his hands and feet.
Watson made a mark that year with a 69-yard touchdown catch from Trey Lance at Youngstown State and put an exclamation stamp on his season with touchdowns on consecutive plays against Montana State in the FCS playoff semifinals at the Fargodome.
He backed up a 75-yard TD catch from Lance with a 70-yard scoring run on a jet sweep that broke open a 7-7 game and brought down the house.
In the aborted spring season that replaced the 2020 fall campaign, with NDSU struggling to establish any kind of passing game, coaches got creative trying to get the ball in Watson's hands. He had a team-high 19 catches and 442 yards, but also ran 21 times for 116 yards.
Roehl says there are more ways to involve Watson.
"There's a couple of wrinkles, just pre-snap things we can do with him that we have utilized that we probably didn't do enough of in the spring," Roehl said.
Much will depend, of course, on NDSU's quarterback play. Junior transfer Quincy Patterson and freshman Cam Miller are in competition for the starting spot. Whoever wins the job simply has to be better than Zeb Noland and Miller were in the spring.
Christian Watson.— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) March 20, 2021
Too big. Too strong. Too fast. Too good. pic.twitter.com/wWg659czQj
If Patterson or Miller throw the ball better, the possibilities for Watson and the offense multiply. Watson is ready for whatever coaches decide comes his way.
"I want to do whatever I can to help us win games, whether that's blocking or getting the ball 15 times a game. At the end of the day, I don't have any control over that so that's not something I'm going to think about too much," Watson said. "If it happens, it happens. I'd be excited to have a bigger role in the game, but if it's not my week to have a big role in a game then I am satisfied with that as well."
Even if Watson's not involved on offense, he's a scoring threat as a kick returner. He was an All-American in the spring, returning two kicks for touchdowns including one for 100 yards at Northern Iowa and another for 94 yards in the playoff quarterfinal loss at Sam Houston.
It will be something that enhances his chance to be drafted or signed by an NFL team.
HOUSE CALL!— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) April 10, 2021
Christian Watson's 100-yard kickoff return puts the Bison ahead 7-6 after a PAT by Jake Reinholz. pic.twitter.com/YKr8KlPzOe
"Even just here, being able to make a difference wherever I can, whether that's on special teams or on offense. I take pride in that," Watson said. "Wherever that takes me, if I'm not allowed to play offense anymore I would still play special teams. Being able to make a difference on kick return is definitely something I take pride in."
There will be numerous opportunities to watch Watson's various skills this fall. Enjoy, since this is his last go-around at NDSU.