MANCHESTER-born Menelik Watson was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Watson, who overcame an impoverished childhood in the tough Longsight area of the English city before heading stateside via the Canary Islands, was expected by many to be taken in the first round at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. That did not happen, although the offensive tackle did not have to wait long to hear his name called as he was chosen with the 42nd overall pick.
Watson, from Florida State University, joins a team that finished with a 4-12 record last season and are widely tipped to struggle again this year. For many, not being grabbed on day one when predicted is a disappointment, but that will not be the case with Watson. Speaking before learning his fate, he said: “I am not interested [in where I am drafted]. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy. Being talked about as a first-rounder is not a concern of mine. It’s all about going to the team and doing a job. The NFL is a totally new animal and a totally different level. Once I get somewhere, I have still got to do a job.”
While it took longer than expected for Watson’s name to come off the board, an early second-round berth is still a considerable achievement for someone who did not know the sport’s rules two years ago. Watson will now set his sights on impressing when training camp starts this summer, with a view to earning a starting place.
As expected, Watson’s countryman Lawrence Okoye was not drafted on day two. Okoye finished 12th in the discus at last year’s Olympics, but decided to swap sports and wowed scouts at the Super Regional Combine. Despite having never played American football, he is expected to be a sixth or seventh-round pick.
Meanwhile, Crawley-born linebacker Tom Wort was also not selected despite having been touted as a possible third-round pick. The third and final day will begin with the start of round four.
In a rise from poverty akin to that of the Baltimore Ravens’ Michael Oher, which was documented in 2009 Hollywood blockbuster The Blind Side starring Sandra Bullock, the 24-year-old Watson was at times forced to eat butter and ketchup sachets for his evening meals as a child. Furthermore, he suffered a horrific ankle injury as a teenager that left doctors contemplating amputation and suggesting his sporting days were over.
Watson is now in a multi-billion-dollar industry and is determined to make the most of it. “Hopefully, I will be able to come back and set up some camps [in the UK],” he said. “There are a lot of kids back home who do not make it at football clubs and think it’s over. We have got athletes everywhere and there are a lot of opportunities to play other sports and get more involved.”
Watson did not always have it easy on the American football field, as he explained: “I knew nothing about the sport.
“The first time I put pads on, I did not know what I was doing and it was a case of just watching everyone. On a play one day, I grabbed a defensive end and ran him up field not knowing you cannot go past the line of scrimmage on a pass play.”
Given Watson is still in the embryonic stages of his development as an American football player, he may – despite being touted as such a high pick – have to endure a period of waiting to get his opportunity. That is something the offensive tackle is aware of, though it does not stop him dreaming of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I have figured out the formula in the way you should go about things and the way the legends have done,” he said.
“First of all, I want to just do my job and help win games, but my main aim is to win a Super Bowl. I watched it last year and I know I am going to be there one year.”