Deon Watson saw an opportunity.
As a wide receiver last season, the sophomore from Coeur d’Alene finished with 37 receptions for 343 yards and one touchdown, but that wasn’t good enough.
With aspirations to play at the next level, Watson sought a change to a new position — tight end.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” Watson said. “I’ve always thought that it would be a better change for me and better for myself in order to get that path to the (NFL).”
Watson said he talked to Idaho coach Paul Petrino about making the switch. Petrino agreed, and so did Watson’s new position coach Al Pupunu.
“I was excited,” Pupunu said. “He was not quite as fast at receiver, but he’s a fast tight end.”
Along with Watson, junior Buck Cowan has also made the switch. In order for the two former wide receivers to be physically ready for their new position, Pupunu said they both need to add some size.
Watson, who stands at 6-foot-4, said he weighed around 210 pounds last season, but managed to pack on some weight and come into spring at 220 pounds.
“I’d like him to be about 240-plus (pounds) and be able to move,” Pupunu said of Watson. “He can put on the weight — he went from 205 to 220 in what, three weeks.”
The switch could not have come at a better time for Idaho. Prior to the start of spring football, the Vandals’ tight end position appeared to be pretty thin and inexperienced.
Justin Podrabsky, the team’s third leading receiver last season, graduated, and the only other tight end to register a stat was Jared Klingenberg (one reception for 10 yards), but he left the program for an unknown reason.
The four remaining tight ends on Idaho’s roster — Daniel Bilafer, Eric Lemke, Jack Claypool and Will Schmidt — all have little to no game experience.
While it’s still early in Watson’s development as a tight end, he has still earned the majority of reps with the first-team offense.
“Deon is able to be kinda that hybrid sort of player,” sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan said. “He came from wide receiver to tight end and he’s made the transition seamlessly. He’s got a natural feel for the position.”
Watson said one of the toughest aspects of the tight end position has been blocking the huge defensive linemen. He said the biggest thing he needs to improve on is his footwork and positioning.
Without another upperclassman around to learn from, Watson said he’s been picking the brain of Pupunu, who played tight end for nine seasons in the NFL.
“That’s a great mind to pick,” Watson said. “I was always a receiver … it’s been a big change for me, but I’m willing to work and study the plays, and I think I’ll be there in no time.”
Pupunu sees Watson’s potential.
“He’s athletic, talented, but what we gotta do now is put on more weight and he’ll be a solid tight end for us,” Pupunu said. “He’s struggling a little bit, but he’ll be fine after a few more days of meetings and practice.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org