Photo by Gerald Castillo
With scholarships secured, Watts, White look to lead at wide receiver
On Aug. 23 at 7:23 p.m., Texas State tweeted out a photo announcing that five former walk-ons had earned scholarships over the offseason. Junior linebacker Malik Alley, senior cornerback Dennis Johnson, senior long snapper Tommy Simmons, junior long snapper Justin Warner and junior wide receiver Hutch White had each secured a spot on the roster for the remainder of their collegiate careers.
It’s become something of a tradition for the Bobcats’ receivers.
In 2014, White’s teammate and fellow receiver Tyler Watts walked on to the team. As an unrated recruit, Watts had a few offers from smaller schools while he was a senior in high school, but wasn’t really interested in any of them. Mike Schultz, Texas State’s offensive coordinator at the time, had been encouraging Watts to join the Bobcats, but never offered a formal scholarship. Still, Watts felt a connection.
“I knew they had a good business program and I had other places to go, small schools,” Watts said. “But, this was just the right fit.”
Watts didn’t see much action through his first two seasons. He was fast, but claims he only weighed 145 pounds and could be knocked down by the slightest touch. He redshirted in 2014 and played in just three games the next year.
During his offseasons, Watts worked to get bigger, faster and stronger. And when head coach Everett Withers was hired in 2016, he saw the potential.
“You watch guys grow through offseason training, the offseason program and summer training,” Withers said. “You also watch off the field and how they interact with their teammates. You see it more before they actually play.”
One day during a team meeting in the summer of 2016, Withers called then-sophomore A.J. Krawcyzk to the front of the room. The head coach announced to the safety and the rest of the team that Krawcyzk would be receiving a scholarship.
“I was almost in tears for (Krawczyk) and then next thing you know, (Withers is) calling my name,” Watts said.
Withers announced that Watts had earned a scholarship as well.
“And I’m just like ‘What? This is crazy,’” Watts said. “I just couldn’t wait to call my mom, and just tell her like ‘Hey, you don’t have to give me anymore money. I got it now.’ It’s just a blessing, it was awesome.”
Relieved of his financial burden, Watts sought to prove he was worth every penny. He did so by leading the team with 83 catches for 696 yards and three touchdowns over the next two seasons.
Like Watts, White knows the responsibility of being under scholarship. He’s eager to build on a season in which he caught 15 passes for 196 yards and ranked 32nd in the nation among qualified players with 6.8 yards per punt return.
“It was really reassuring, looking back at all the work I put in,” White said. “(The coaches) really helped me with confidence. And now I can just sort of go out and just play the game that I love.”
Texas State’s coaches have big plans for the receiving group this year. Among offensive coordinator Zak Kuhr’s goals for this season is leading the NCAA in “explosive plays,” which the coach defines as runs that go for at least 12 yards and passes that go for at least 16 yards.
“(I’m expecting) big plays. Physicality,” Kuhr said. “(Wide receivers coach Ron Antoine) always says ‘No block, no rock.’ So, they take pride in the perimeter blocking, whether it be for bubble routes or the run game on the perimeter. I expect to see some explosion out of that unit. That’s a unit that, you know, if we don’t have things going on really well, they have to kind of pull us out of a lull.”
Watts, now a senior and 165 pounds, and White will need to set the example for the rest of the unit. Of the 16 receivers on the roster, just five are upperclassmen. The coaches have complete confidence in them.
“They knew the responsibility of having that scholarship,” Withers said. “It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, I have a scholarship, I can go chill.’ It’s, ‘I have a scholarship, so they’re expecting an awful lot from me.’ Those guys have not disappointed, they’ve stepped up and been great leaders and ambassadors for our program.”