Even amid team struggles, UPenn’s Justin Watson on cusp of history

Even amid team struggles, UPenn’s Justin Watson on cusp of history

Not until it’s all over next month will Penn’s Justin Watson look back. But when the kid from Bridgeville, PA — just outside of Pittsburgh — finally does he’ll realize he’s left behind quite a legacy.

Already the 6-foot-3, 220 pound senior has equaled Dan Castles’ school record 27 touchdown receptions, while moving within 10 catches of Rob Milanese’s mark of 259 catches. He’s also just 124 yards behind Milanese’s mark of 3,405 career yards and within striking distance of Adolph Bellizeare’s 4,004 all-purpose yards.

Not only that, but the pre-season All America ranks high on the Ivy League’s all-time list in those categories, with still four games to go.

But following Saturday’s 24-19 loss to Yale, the Quaker’s third straight come-from-ahead loss where they held a fourth quarter lead, Watson was in no mood to bask in his press clippings.   Despite catching 10 balls for 120 yards and that school record-tying touchdown, he acted as if he hadn’t done enough.

“I don’t like going off field hugging my family after a loss and a whole locker room of guys feels the same way,” Watson said, who has 44 catches for 587 yards and eight scores for the 2-4 Quakers, 30 more receptions than anyone else on the team.  “Losing hurts whether you have the lead or not. But we’ll just keep taking it one week at time.  Just trying to go 1-0.  We don’t talk big picture a lot.”

For those who do it’s all but official these Quakers will relinquish their crown, after earning a piece of the Ivy title the last two years. After falling to Dartmouth and unlikely co-leader Columbia under former Quaker coach Al Bagnoli on the final play of the game in consecutive weeks, this one was decided late as well.

Penn had taken advantage of pair of Bulldog fumbles to go up 19-18 on Tre Solomon’s 2-yard run with 9:03 left. But the Quakers couldn’t come up with a stop on the ensuing possession, as Yale drive 80 yards in 11 plays for the game winner with 4:11 left.

“I’m not sure if it’s mental in that our kids are thinking that way, but we’re not finishing,” said Quaker coach Ray Priore, who’ll try to get his team to rebound at Brown Saturday.  “When you look at a game, it usually comes down to everybody sharpening themselves up on 2-3 things. If you sharpen those pieces it can be the difference between that fourth quarter win and loss.  We’ve really been victims of that the last couple of weeks.”

The bottom line is Watson’s swan song for the Red and Blue will likely end in disappointment. But his stellar career won’t go unappreciated. 

“He’s just blessed with some tremendous ability and drive,” said Priore of Watson, a finalist for the 2016 Walter Payton Award and a strong candidate this year.  “He’s got great focus and attention to detail. You always hope players will be good. But as soon as he got here as a freshman it was clear and evident he was a different player than everybody else.”

For now Watson’s too concerned about Brown, followed by Princeton, Harvard and Cornell, to dwell on any of that. 

“The mantra of our offense is to put your head down and work, then look at the scoreboard afterwards,” said Watson, who has 249 career receptions for 3,281 yards and those 27 touchdowns.  “I have the same mindset with my career. Just work as hard as I can each day, leading these guys through and trying to get wins.  Four games from now I’ll look back on that stuff. I’m not concerned with it now.”

When he finally does take a look Justin Watson will realize what everybody else has known all along.

Nobody who’s worn the red and blue has ever done it better.