Meet the New Steeler: RB Terrell Watson

I suppose this should be called “Meet the Semi-New Steeler,” because Watson was signed back in March after being cut by the Browns. Go ahead if you must and insert the obligatory remark, and then please continue to read about what turns out to be an extraordinary young man.

Terrell Watson’s life is rather like something out of a Victorian novel. He was left in a basket on a doorstep as a two-week-old baby—yes, really. The birth mother was the 15-year old daughter by an earlier relationship of the husband of the couple behind the door, and it was she who so unceremoniously left the child on the doorstep.

His new parents (Billy Watson was, of course, actually his grandfather) had a four-year-old child themselves, but his adoptive mother, Janet Watson, clearly has a heart of gold, because she agreed to take him on. And then his little brother, and then a sister.

Terrell struggled mightily in school, and it was soon evident he had a severe learning disability. This meant he spent essentially all his school years in special ed classes. When he was in fifth grade he was still unable to read even simple things and would have to ask his first-grade sister for help. He also had a speech impediment and was diagnosed as hyperactive, although Janice never agreed for him to be put on Ritalin.

Neither of his siblings had these issues, and occasionally it would be very frustrating to young Terrell. In a lovely article in the Guardian which came out when Watson signed with the Browns, author Les Carpenter wrote:

A teacher told Terrell he was not smart and would never go to college.

“I think that was always in the back of his mind,” Janice says.

Billy and Janice refuse to let Terrell believe there was something wrong with him. Billy always said: “God gave you gifts just as He has the other children.” Terrell’s gift, it turned out, was determination.

“Everything he did, he put 150% into it,” Janice says. “For him to learn he had to do more.”

The breakthrough came when Janice realized he had a photographic memory. This not only allowed him to learn to read but meant that as a football player he would memorize all of the schemes. As Watson says:

I feel like everything I went through in school has made me the person I am today in football. You don’t let adversity define who you are.

Because of concerns about whether Watson could qualify academically for a Division 1 school, he received no scholarship offers. But Azuza Pacific came calling, and it turned out to be just the right place for Watson.

With small class sizes and a caring faculty, the sort of place where the teachers give out their cell phone numbers and make themselves available at all hours, he discovered a passion for sociology, and graduated with a degree in it.

In the meantime, he was breaking every record on the football field for Azuza running backs, which is saying more than you might think. The records were all set by Christian Okoye, who went on to an illustrious NFL career—an all-Pro who led the league in rushing in 1989.

But despite a very impressive pro day, Watson wasn’t drafted. He went to the Bengals as a UDFA and then was brought to Cleveland by his offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, when the latter became the new Head Coach of the Browns. I suppose if the Steelers cut him he will head to Baltimore.

But in my Momma heart I’m hoping he won’t need to look for another berth. I’m not sure where he will fit with the Steelers, as the backfield is a bit crowded at the moment, but he certainly has many of the physical tools to succeed in the NFL.

Watson once rushed for 232 yards in college—in one quarter. This was, of course, against Divsion II rivals, but that has to mean something. He was listed at 6’2”, 240 pounds in his draft profile (I note he is listed at 6’1” on the Steelers roster) but ran a 40 time at his pro day which was as good as some considerably lighter backs ran at the Combine. He has an intriguing nose for the end zone.

Furthermore, his almost encyclopedic knowledge of various NFL offensive schemes—he has spent time with Denver and Philadelphia as well as three-quarters of the AFC North—means he should have a least a decent chance to impress the Steelers.

But whether he goes on to have an illustrious NFL career like Okoye or ends up on a few more practice squads before becoming a “free agent,” it’s clear Watson will land on his feet. His passion for sociology—he would ask endless questions about why things were the way they were and what could be done about it—has led him to want to make a difference. To once again quote the Guardian article:

Terrell wants to be a policeman after football. He wants to help people, and he believes that would be the best way he could. He imagines himself arresting a kid and talking to him as they drive to the station, giving the speech that changes the kid’s life. If he could do that, he would consider his job complete. “I’m always OK with laying my life on the line for someone I don’t know, to make sure they are safe,” he says. “So I don’t know, I’m a big people person.”

If he manages to nab a spot on the roster, I think we can, between James Conner and Watson, claim to have the most storied backfield in the NFL. And that definitely works for me!


  • OK Rebecca…now I have someone else to root for that has only an outside chance to make this team. So much about Watson that I did not know! Who can now root against him? It will be tough, but maybe he can show enough to squeeze onto the practice squad for a year or so and hone his craft at the NFL level.


  • I’m with you. I will be pulling for this young man at camp!


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