Aug. 28, 2002
Over the past two years, Bert Watts has had to play safety with one eye on the receiver and the other eye over his shoulder. This year, however, he plans to keep both eyes on the ball.
"I feel free," said Watts, who has shared the position the last couple of seasons but has clearly secured the No. 1 spot for 2002. "In the past, I have not been able to play my game because I was worried about making mistakes. I have no more concerns of being yanked from the game for being overly aggressive. I need to be aggressive to be successful."
In practices leading up to the Baylor opener, Watts has clearly been more assertive, and the results of his newfound freedom have impressed Cal's new coaching staff.
Watts, who developed early in his career as one of the vocal leaders on the team, has switched gears this year and begun to take pride in leading by example. "He is a true leader," Williams added. "I always have felt leaders lead by example and not with words."
"I have learned to appreciate my time out there on the field. You never know when it might end," Watts said.
Watts' time playing football almost ended prematurely in the spring of 1999, when he was blind-sided in practice by a block. "It was somewhat devastating," he said. "I laid there for a second not able to move, thinking to myself, 'Is this it? Are my dreams over?'"
At first indication, the answer to Watts' question was yes. It was over.
"Many of the doctors I consulted urged me to give it up, but I love this game too much to give up without a fight," he said.
Watts' determination fueled his come back. After successful back surgery that kept him off the field for the entire the 1999 season, Watts underwent a strict rehabilitation process, which rivaled military basic training or boot camps in its intensity.
"There was no reason that I wasn't coming back," Watts said. "I came too far to have it (career) cut short."
Far, is the exact description of Watts' travels. A native of New Jersey, he came to Cal after being a multi-dimensional star, playing a broad range of positions at Ridge High School, including quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and safety.
"I just wished we played more nationally televised games so that his family can see him, because he is a special kid," Williams said.
Added Watts: "I may be a ways away, but I can still feel their support from afar. My teammates have grown to be like family to me."
Since being at Cal, Watts has compiled 64 tackles and a lot of respect from his teammates, including a team-high 10 stops at Washington State last fall and 11 total tackles at Illinois in 2000.
"I feel very comfortable in the defensive backfield with Bert," fellow safety Nnamdi Asomugha said. "He is a smart guy and I trust that he will always make the right decisions."
Watts' appreciation for the game is evident in the way he goes about preparing for each contest. He shows no signs of back pain when he punishes his body in the weight room, and he definitely does not hesitate when it comes to contact on the field.
"I feel very comfortable out there," he said. "Being on the field is an honor a lot of people don't have. I would like to make the most of it.
"I am a senior, I want to win now, and I feel that we are going to do just that. We have quality players at every position and a coaching staff that believes in our abilities whole heartily. With that combination we'll be tough to beat."
For all Watts has endured, he is sure to be moving full steam ahead.