Long way from Longsight: Manchester’s Menelik Watson poised to cap meteoric rise as NFL draft pick

By Michael Kelleher

Manchester’s Menelik Watson is poised to cap a meteoric rise to NFL stardom when he hears his name called in the 2013 Draft, which begins Thursday night.

Despite playing just 20 college football games in two years of football, Watson’s immense physical gifts have intrigued NFL coaches so much that he looks set to become a first-round pick.

Standing at 6ft 5ins and weighing 310 pounds, the talented offensive tackle prospect is just scratching the surface of his potential and admits he is enjoying the journey.

“Football just came naturally,” the 24-year-old said. “I studied the game and watched players to see what they were doing.

“I did not know anything about it when I started. When I went to junior college I had to learn all the rules from scratch.

“I have not done anything yet in terms of where I am trying to go and what I am trying to accomplish.

“I am not getting complacent or comfortable but it is fun and exciting and I am enjoying it.”

As a self-professed Manchester City fanatic who ‘bleeds blue’, Watson keeps his home city very much in his heart.

As one of five children raised by a single mother, Novlyn McFarquhar, Watson did not always have an easy time growing up in Longsight.

One day, while his mother was cleaning a building, he was so hungry he went into to the cafeteria and consumed a large quantity of ketchup – the only thing he could find.

Watson – who has a brother in prison – admits his desire not to let his mother down helped him stay out of trouble growing up and he still strives to make her proud.

“Manchester is a blue collar town and everyone works hard,” he said. “Unfortunately for me, my mum had to raise us by herself. She did not have many options or opportunities.

“I saw my brothers hit the streets and I saw what it did to my mum. I always wanted to make things easier for her. Even when we got into trouble she always showed us love.

“I’m not perfect. I have done some bad things and I have been on the street corner before but I have always been blessed with a good spirit that kept me out of trouble.

“I feel like I owe it to my mum more so than anyone else in the world to do something positive. That is my motivation.”

Watson has a four-year-old daughter, Orellana, whom he named after the coach who was like a father figure to him while he chased his dream in America – Rob Orellana.

She lives in Manchester with her mother, and Watson, who will soon sign a lucrative NFL rookie contract, is glad that she will not endure the same hardships he faced growing up.

“Her mum has raised her to be so special,” he said. “I am just happy she won’t have to go through some of the things I did. You know it was rough at times.

“I can remember her Mum calling me and telling me she had eaten noodles for two nights in a row. That hurt me as a man more so than anything because I was not able to provide for her.

“I am happy those days are over and she will never have to worry about something like that ever again.”

Watson was a keen footballer growing up but had to stop playing after fracturing and dislocating his ankle as a 12-year-old.

After that he took up basketball and was eventually recruited by Orellana for his academy team in Spain.

From there he earned a basketball scholarship offer from Marist University – who are based in the Poughkeepsie region of New York – where he stayed for two years.

Watson enjoyed limited success at Marist, and after a brief foray into boxing, decided he wanted to try his hand at American football.

Orellana, whom he moved in with after leaving Marist, contacted the football coach at little-known Saddleback College, Mark McElroy, to see if he would give Watson a shot and he agreed.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Watson took to the game immediately and his rare physical tools intrigued major college coaches so much that he had them queuing up for his services by the end of the season.

He chose to transfer to Florida State and surrendered just one sack in 12 games as the team’s right tackle – something which grabbed the attention of NFL scouts.

Watson’s offensive line coach at Florida State, Rick Trickett, is adamant the Manchester native will be a success in the NFL, calling him by far the most talented player he has ever coached.

Despite just one season at the highest level of college football, Watson felt he was ready to make the leap into the professional game.

“For me, it is not about the money,” he said. “My coach said to me ‘if you stay next year you can be a top-five pick’ but it really was not about that.

“Yes it would have been nice to go back for another year. The biggest reason I would have wanted to go back is for my teammates and my offensive line at Florida State.

“For me it was more so about getting a job. I am 24 years old, I have been in school my whole life and I thought it was about time I got myself a job.”

The NFL is a billion dollar business, in which only the toughest players – both mentally and physically – succeed, but Watson is confident he can do just do that.

“I am setting my goals really high and whether people expect certain things or not, I am expecting a lot from myself,” he said.

“Rome was not built in a day and I cannot promise it is going to happen tomorrow.

“But I have figured out the formula. I have figured out how much time, how much dedication and how much effort you have got to put into it.

“No matter what critics or doubters say about me they need to understand that I have set goals higher than they could ever think of.”

Image courtesy of, via YouTube, with thanks

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