There are worse fates, one presumes, than growing up in a football kiln like Tennille, Ga., going to Georgia Tech and never experiencing a victory over Georgia.
Brandon Watts would prefer not to know about such things.
“We’ve never beaten Georgia since I’ve been here so it would be very special to win,” said Watts, a senior linebacker from Washington County. “It would make me feel good inside if we beat them at least once before I leave, because you never want to be that class that goes out and has never beaten their rival.”
Watts admits that being 0-4 (including his redshirt season in 2009 when all he could do was watch) against the Bulldogs makes it a little uncomfortable when he goes home on breaks.
“People give me the needle about that all the time,” he said. “They talk noise all the time and I let it go in one ear and out the other. I’ll just try to go out there so we can beat them this year and maybe I’ll be able to talk junk back.”
Watts – a versatile two-way star for the Golden Hawks who was also a state champion sprinter – had options where to play in college. But remaining close enough to home where his parents, Jimmy and Sabrina Watts, could come see him play was paramount.
And when it came down to the two biggest in-state programs, he only had eyes for the Yellow Jackets.
“I wanted to be different from everybody else,” Watts said. “Everybody else was a Georgia fan growing up so I just wanted to be different and take my own route.”
It has not been the easiest time to be a defensive player on The Flats. Georgia Tech has scrolled through three different defensive coordinators during Watts’ time there, trying to find a system that would complement head coach Paul Johnson’s trademark triple-option offense.
Having played in 47 games so far (second most on the current roster), Watts has had to make almost annual adjustments. He plays the strong-side Sam linebacker in Ted Roof’s current 4-3 system – which has improved from yielding an average 2.52 points per possession last year to 1.67 this season.
“Some of the stuff carries over, just different verbiage,” Watts said. “Learning a whole new system is kind of frustrating at times, but you just have to be patient and it all falls into place sooner or later. ... Our defense has made an improvement this year and I’m very proud of that.”
Watts had 77 tackles as a junior starter, including 8.5 for losses that ranked second on the team. But nagging turf toe in his right foot kept him from reaching his full potential, and Watts decided to get it taken care of surgically in the offseason.
Despite missing spring practice when Roof’s new system was installed, Watts has remained one of the key defensive playmakers with a 52 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception in 10 starts. He sat out last week’s Alabama A&M game to let a sore hamstring heel up to be at full strength against Georgia.
With his toe injury taken care of, Watts resumed his stature as the second fastest player on the team behind only sprint champion Broderick Snoddy, who holds the school record in the 60-meter.
“I got back and I increased speed,” Watts said. “I’m able to practice more now. I don’t have to take time off on plays during the game anymore. It was just a nagging turf toe but it was hard for me to cut and push off of on a consistent basis. I’m glad I got it taken care of.”
With his size (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) and speed, Watts is drawing interest from some of the collegiate all-star games for seniors. He hopes to make a strong enough impression on NFL coaches and scouts to get a chance to play linebacker or safety at the next level.
“I just want to go out there and do my best and see how everything falls in place,” he said. “I think I’ll do very well. Just worry about getting better as a player and a person and football will take care of itself.”
If the NFL doesn’t work out, Watts’ reasoning for going to Georgia Tech in the first place will serve him well. He graduates next month with a degree in business management.
“Georgia Tech had a great education and thought about that in case football didn’t work out then the life after football would be great if I graduated from here,” he said.
Right now, however, Watts is more concerned about the Bulldogs and getting that rivalry win that has proved elusive to he an 16 other Yellow Jackets seniors. Both teams enter the game 7-4 and stinging from disappointing campaigns in their respective conferences.
Georgia might be vulnerable without standout quarterback Aaron Murray, who had surgery on Tuesday to repair his torn ACL suffered Saturday against Kentucky. And while Georgia Tech’s defense has improved, the Bulldogs have proven porous.
“I’m going to be very excited to walk out there on Senior Day with my parents.” Watts said. “I just want to go out and get a ‘W’ for me, my teammates and our whole senior class.
“If you can’t get up for this game then you’re not made to play college football. It’s always great to play your rival at the end. It gives you added motivation even if you don’t have much to play for in the ACC, especially if your rival is coming into your house. You want to rule the state and we haven’t beaten Georgia in five years and want to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”