Hard-working. Violent. Aggressive. Play-making. That’s how junior Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts describes himself.
Watts’ explanation of his characteristics in the August 22 media session aptly combines adjectives that fit both sides of the football.
Watts, who began his Notre Dame career as a wide receiver and switched last year to safety to fill a need on defense, enters his junior year poised to live up to his namesake: to be an “X” factor.
Watts has played both receiver and safety in fall camp due to a depleted wide receiver corps. Sixth-year senior Avery Davis is out for the year after tearing his ACL in practice. Sophomore Deion Colzie and Senior Joe Wilkins Jr. have also been banged up.
He has a name, image, and likeness deal with a t-shirt company whose slogan is “Only so Many Saturdays. Make ‘em Count.” In that case, why not play as much as possible?
“Not a lot of people get the opportunity [to play both offense and defense],” Watts said.
Watts played both safety and receiver in high school. He has good instincts when ball-hawking and in wrapping up on tackles. And he has soft hands as a receiver.
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman praised Watts’ character in his being a team player.
“To be able to go over there and help us on offense, we’re obviously down some numbers. Then the next series, he’s in on defense. It talks to his character. He was really, really progressing as a safety.”
“The unselfishness out of him,” Freeman continued. “We left it with him. Hey, we need a couple of bodies on offense. We need some guys to help us out. We’re down in wideouts, and he’s like, ‘Coach, if it’s what’s best for the team, I’m going do it.’ He’s been going on offense and defense.”
Watts has made clear, though, that he’s not just filling in on either side of the line of scrimmage.
“It’s a unique attribute to be able to be dominant on both sides of the ball,” Watts said.
As a senior in high school, Watts had 68 tackles and three interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He caught 13 touchdowns on offense and ran for one more. Last season, Watts focused on safety, especially needed in Kyle Hamilton’s absence to injury for the second half of the season. Watts totaled 15 tackles.
Watts feels he can contribute wherever the team needs.
Freeman called it a “Now thing.”
Sense of urgency. The need to step up so the team can achieve its larger goals. Taking what’s given to you – like a turnover or a 50-50 ball. Or an opportunity.
The Irish have an opportunity in front of them this 2022 season, with an experience-laden roster and talent at skill positions. Watts wasn’t about to let the opportunity get past him.
“Only so Many Saturdays.” Only so many possessions. Only so many snaps.
Watts might play them all.