Ryan Watts was the quarterback, and he was an athletic freak.
Little Elm (Texas) High School assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Donald Hatcher had coached the likes of NFL veterans Von Miller and Jalen Mills earlier in his career, and Ryan Watts absolutely matched up with those household names.
Just one problem: Watts had virtually no interest in playing quarterback.
“He didn’t like quarterback, he wanted to play defense,” Hatcher told Lettermen Row. “That’s how I knew. He wanted to come play defense over offense. He was gonna be something special, because you don’t get many guys like that with his athletic make-up.
“But he saw he had good feet, he was already taller than everybody as a freshman and he talked about what he heard on TV. Everybody loves the 6-foot-3 corner that’s got long arms and can run. That’s where the money’s at. He saw these big receivers, and the defensive backs were 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10. He was like: ‘Man, I’ve got the range and I can break the mold.”
An Ohio State mid-year enrollee, Watts’ frame fits nicely into the mold of the Buckeyes athletic, long and rangy defensive backs who have turned the secondary into B.I.A. — the Best in America. Hatcher has watched Watts work to get to this point, where Watts soon will participate in his first-ever college spring camp and challenge for a spot in a revamped Ohio State secondary.
“He just wanted to do it, wanted to get better,” Hatcher said. “He went to guys who train defensive backs and skill players. My biggest emphasis, get rid of those false steps early in your career, and once you get going in high school and college you can do anything on the football field.
“He doesn’t do a lot of taking false steps, and is really keyed in to make sure he’s always in good position. He wants to beat you at the line.”
Ryan Watts, 6-foot-3, 186 pounds and consensus four-star prospect in the 2020 signing haul for Ohio State, is versatile enough to win matchups anywhere on the field. So much so, in fact, that Hatcher made a rather unprecedented and unconventional move in the 2019 season: He put in a defensive package for Watts, labeled “Buckeye.”
“We changed a defensive scheme and called it ‘Buckeye,’ and it was five men in the box, five DBs and Ryan in the middle of the field,” said Hatcher, with previous stops at DeSoto (Texas) and both Blinn College and Stephen F. Austin University. “We just said, ‘Go be an athlete and make plays.’
“We ran that the last couple weeks of the season, and he really excelled at that. The kids follow him. They knew if he got in at wide receiver on offense, he would score. On defense, they look for him to make the play.”
Now Hatcher is looking for Watts to make his mark at Ohio State.
“Seeing how he did this year, and I coached Dontre Wilson who went up to Ohio State, Ryan is right up there with those guys and the best I’ve ever coached,” he said. “He’s got a little bit more of a chip, maybe, because he doesn’t come from a big background. He’s first-generation college in his family, I think.
“He’s got something different about him. He’s not one to gloat, he’s just out there to do his thing.”
Now Ryan Watts is ready to start doing it with the Buckeyes.