D-G-F's Watt nearly lost football to scoliosis, but a random act changed everything

GLYNDON, Minn.-Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton senior Eric Watt was in the bathroom of his home in eighth grade shirtless when his mother told him to stand up straight. Watt told her he was standing up straight, and that's when she knew there was a problem.
Dilworth-Glydon-Felton senior Eric Watt thought he was playing his first and last varsity football game when he was a freshman due to his scoliosis.David Samson / The Forum

GLYNDON, Minn.-Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton senior Eric Watt was in the bathroom of his home in eighth grade shirtless when his mother told him to stand up straight. Watt told her he was standing up straight, and that's when she knew there was a problem.

His shoulder blades weren't anywhere close to being lined up.

"Went to my pediatric person and they said you have scoliosis," Watt said. "We got it X-rayed and it was a 63-degree curve."

Watt spent his summer before freshman year getting X-ray after X-ray. Surgery was set for October to put two rods in his back and before he could even find out his ability to play football, it was taken away from him.

"They told me I couldn't play football anymore because once you get the metal rods in your back, it becomes very stiff and on a collision it could crack and then you could be paralyzed," Watt said.

He never imagined three years later he'd be a captain of the No. 2-ranked D-G-F football team that is headed to the Class 3A quarterfinals to take on Proctor at Brainerd High School at 3 p.m. Saturday. But he is.

"It's great," Watt said. "It's been a long road and a lot of stuff going on. When they said I wasn't going to be able to play football or soccer or hockey or a lot of stuff really it made me mad because I never knew if I could have been good or not."

"There's a lot of different pieces here where if one of those pieces didn't happen, he doesn't play football," D-G-F football coach Anthony Soderberg said.

The first piece was Soderberg deciding to let Watt play in what looked liked his first and last football game as a freshman before his surgery. No freshman had ever played in a varsity game under Soderberg and no freshman has played since in his eight years coaching D-G-F.

"It was kind of a dark day because Eric was a freshman and he was doing a phenomenal job playing football," Soderberg said. "He was somebody that we were definitely going to depend on down the road. For a lot of the football coaches, playing football in high school was a great experience. At the time, just to know that, he was going to miss out on the things that we enjoyed that's why we put him in the game. Just to let him get that experience. He got to run down the field and play under the lights on a Friday night."

Watt played on Sept. 21, 2012, in what he thought would be his only varsity football game. He scored a touchdown on his first play and the team jumped on him in the end zone.

"We got a bunch of flags for it, but it was worth it," Watt said.

Watt was the last guy out of the locker room after that game. His mom walked with him to the exit of the D-G-F gym and he cried. Football was over when it had just gotten started.

Little did Watt know, but a person had seen his story televised on WDAY and contacted the school, saying surgery wasn't his only option.

He met Dr. Ryan Schroeder at United Health Chiropractic in Fargo for what served as the final piece of getting Watt on the football field.

"He's at a point where he no longer has a significant factor for progression," Schroeder said. "For the most part, he should be able to maintain a healthy back. My favorite patient to work with is a patient with scoliosis, whether it's a kid or an adult, who doesn't feel like they have any other options. I love seeing what Eric is doing"

Two dislocated knees kept him out all but two games his junior season, but Watt came back. The road was bumpy, but he has five rushing touchdowns, 12 catches for 177 yards receiving and two interceptions on defense in his senior season.

The thoughts of his back will always be behind him, but Watt can't help but think of what he'd miss in front of him if things had gone differently.

"(Playing at state) means a lot, knowing if I would have had surgery I wouldn't have any of this," Watt said. "It's amazing that I'm here."