For the first time in his professional career, former Azusa Pacific running back Terrell Watson has made an NFL team’s 53-man roster for the beginning of the 2017 season.
This is the also the first time a Cougar alumnus made an NFL opening day roster since running back Christian Okoye in 1992.
Watson signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, his fifth NFL team over the past three years. After stints in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver and Philadelphia, Watson would beat out three other Steelers running backs for a spot on the active roster. Now, Watson is listed as the team’s third-string RB behind All-Pro Le’Veon Bell and rookie James Conner.
Watson said that the experience of being with different teams has made him a better player, and has given him a chance to return to his aggressive running style. In addition, Watson said he feels comfortable in the Steelers offense and he uses the motto, “clear eyes, full heart” as extra motivation.
“My rookie year I tried to change the way I ran and be more of a finesse runner, and it hurt me. So I learned to stick to who you are and do what you do that got you there,” Watson said. “Now I go in with clear eyes and a full heart, understanding what I need to do to be effective and do it to the best of my ability.”
Watson earned a spot on the roster after an impressive preseason performance, where he not only led the team in rushing, but led all of the NFL in rushing with 173 yards on 37 carries and a touchdown. His performance caught the attention of both coaches and players.
“He’s been really consistent with the way he’s performed largely through this process,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters in a post-game press conference following the team’s final preseason game. “He’s got a run style, he’s got a distinguishing trait that he consistently puts on display.”
Steelers starting QB Ben Roethlisberger said in a radio interview with 93.7, The Fan, that Watson’s play style and attitude earned him a roster spot.
“He put his head down and if he needed the yard, he got himself a yard-and-a-half. You needed five, he got you five-and-a-half, or six, at least,” Roethlisberger said. “He runs hard and he just did something that was intriguing. He caught the ball better than you kind of expected. He ran harder than you even thought he would.”
As a Cougar, Watson’s résumé includes 79 touchdowns and almost six thousand total scrimmage yards. He broke 25 Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) records and over 20 school records including APU’s single-season rushing record, which was set by Okoye in 1986.
Watson and the Steelers will play at the Cleveland Browns in the season opener on Sunday, Sept. 10.