Desmond Watson now recognized for his size and hard work: He's set to start for Florida

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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The Florida Gators defensive lineman Desmond Watson (21) runs off the field after making a tackle during the opening game of the 2022 season against the Utah Utes at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville FL, Sept. 3, 2022.

Florida football 6-foot-5, 415-pound nose tackle Desmond Watson went viral on social media this week when he body-slammed USF quarterback Gerry Bohanon to the turf at The Swamp last Saturday for a big fourth-quarter stop.

But another social media post caught the attention of fans of both Florida and USF the following day.

Watson posted a picture of himself on Twitter grabbing USF running back Brian Battie for a tackle with the title “Wasted Scholarship.” Some interpreted it as a slight against Battie, but Watson offered a different explanation this week.

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“People thought I was talking about the running back,” Watson said. “It’s not that. He did good. I can’t say anything bad about him.

“Mostly it was when I first got here people were saying they had wasted a scholarship on me because of my weight and stuff like that, but I always knew my ability, so I felt like once I made some plays I’d post it out about a wasted scholarship. In the future if I’m an All-American or something like that I want to be able to show people you can do it.” 

Desmond Watson set to make first college start

Watson is in line to make his first career start on Saturday when the No. 22 Gators (2-1) face the No. 12 Tennessee Volunteers (3-0) at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (3:30 p.m., CBS).

“It’s really exciting, something I looked forward to coming up as a kid,” Watson said. “Exciting to get my first start away, in a hostile environment. I feel like that’s going to be a test for me, but I feel like I’m ready for it.” 

It’s been an up and down journey for Watson. Out of Armwood High in Plant City, Watson, a second-team Class 7A all-state standout, chose Florida over offers from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi State and Florida State.

Watson appeared in 13 games for the Gators as a freshman last season, finishing with seven tackles and half a sack. But weight issues limited Watson’s effectiveness, and when he ballooned to close to 450 pounds in the offseason, it appeared his future at UF was limited.

Tackle Desmond Watson making gains with weight loss

Gators defensive lineman Desmond Watson (21) brings down South Florida Bulls running back Brian Battie (21) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, on Sept. 17, 2022.

The transformation began at the start of fall camp. Watson has lost close to 40 pounds since the beginning of August, according to Florida coach Billy Napier.

“It’s a wholesale change in terms of habits, discipline,” Napier said. “We’re talking about nutrition, sleep, overall approach. I couldn’t be more proud of the guy. I’m gonna tell you something. There’s a lot more. It’s scary to think where this guy could go if he continues to lose weight at the rate he is.”

Side work sessions for Watson in camp included him towing a weighted sled in the August heat and humidity.

“My coaches knew it was going to be a challenge,” Watson said. “So during certain periods of practice, when I didn’t have to be in or something like that, they would have me do extra conditioning and stuff like that, try to get ready for whatever it was upcoming whether it be a game or another like tempo period or something like that. It’s trying to get me in better condition for things to come.” ‘

Another facet to Watson’s weight loss was his eating habits, and for that, he turned to Florida director of sports nutrition Kelsee Gomes. A new favorite snack is trail mix, but Watson has steered clear of any sweets.

“Everything I eat I try to get it from her and make sure I got her special approval,” Watson said.

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The results showed the field. Watson has managed to stay in games for more snaps. Against USF, Watson posted a season-high three tackles, including the tackle for loss in which he picked Bohanon up and threw him down like a rag doll.

“It was cool because I was actually watching it on the field because I didn’t know he was going to do that,” Florida defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. said. “I thought he was going to drag him to the ground. When I saw him lift him up, I thought he could have lifted him up a little higher.”

Cox said Watson has the potential to be a force up front because of his size, strength and ability to occupy blockers. In the weight room, Watson said his maximum bench press is 520 pounds and max squat is 720 pounds.

“That guy going forward, he’s just a wrecking ball,” Cox said.

In addition to Watson’s size and strength, Cox said he’s surprisingly nimble as well.

“He’s really quick,” Cox said. “People wouldn’t think that. He walks around a little slow, but he’s really quick on the field. His first two steps are amazing.”

Watson said he didn’t expect the tackle of Bohanon to blow up as much as it did on Twitter.

“When I looked at the replay, I was even more excited,” Watson said. “That’s probably a play that all kids dream of, making a big play in front of thousands of people.”

For now, though, Watson is focused on his continued improvement in his play and conditioning in order to hold the starting job for as long as possible.

“I’m getting rewarded, as far as, you know, getting play time,” Watson said. “So getting down, getting in the right condition, I feel like that’s motivation for me to get the weight down and keep it going.” 

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