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Cleveland High’s Watson eyes senior season and what lies beyond

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — What kind of summer torture is this for a high school senior-to-be: No cheeseburgers and no sodas?

“It’s been crazy,” says two-sport Cleveland High standout Clayton Watson III, whom everyone just calls Tre. “We’ve all been trying to stick together to be our best, do our school stuff, stay together.”

And this isn’t just any senior, mind you: Watson was a first-team All-State selection in football and basketball last season, and a second-team All-State in football as a sophomore. Oh, and he was MaxPreps’ Male Athlete of the Year in New Mexico.

Except for missing seven games last season with a broken arm — suffered on the field before halftime in the Storm’s opener, he’s had a glorious past with a promising future. He counted up 13 college offers — all for football, with one Division 1 school, the University of New Mexico, telling him he could also play basketball. And two schools, New Mexico State and San Diego State, have offered him basketball scholarships.

“Growing up (for four years in Los Angeles), USC is my dream school — I can definitely see myself playing there, if the opportunity came,” he said. “Due to COVID, we can’t get out; I’ve been doing Zoom virtual tours (of campuses and facilities), and that’s helping me and my family.”

Watson is originally from Virginia, and after life in L.A. — “That’s what gave me a competitive edge,” he said — the family moved to Rio Rancho in 2015. Moving to the desert, “has been a great experience, providing me with a lot of opportunities.”

His Air Force father has been a huge influence on him and the one “who kinda introduced me to the game. But my trainer in L.A. helped me a lot, and here, Chris Williams.”

His father also got his son an autographed jersey of Tre’s favorite NFL player, Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver DeSean Jackson, an L.A. native and standout at Cal-Berkeley.

Schools are eyeing him as a receiver — record-setting stints at Rio Rancho High School, NMSU and the CFL, Williams knows quite a bit about those positions — and at 6-5, Watson can out-jump defenders and get up for high passes. Playing tight end is where Watson sees himself — much like former Storm standout Marcus Williams, heading into his senior season at UNM, who could pass for an older brother.

“Probably as a hybrid, so I can play wide receiver,” Watson said. “Some said (I could play) defense — I told them whatever’s best for me.”

So football is clearly where his heart is, and, realistically, he knows, he’ll need a great senior season, because with his absence from the field in 2019, there’s not a lot of tape for coaches to see. And who knows how many games will be played this season, when the Storm try to defend their Class 6A championship of last year.

“Anyone that has seen Tre play the game of football or the game of basketball knows right away how special he is,” says CHS head coach Heath Ridenour. “He can flat play the game. He changes the game and immediately gives us an advantage just because of his size and athletic ability. But what most people don’t see and may not fully comprehend about Tre is how hard he works at his craft. The individual effort he puts forth away from team activities is amazing. He is truly a next level guy with a next level work ethic.”

Football isn’t everything for Watson

“Academics is always the first thing I’m allowed to look at,” he said, referring to some of the best advice he received from his parents, CJ and Michelle Watson.

Michelle, now the assistant principal at Sandia Vista Elementary after teaching at Cleveland, said, “We have always instilled in Tre that there is a reason why student comes before athlete in ‘student-athlete.’ Education establishes and sets the foundation in everything you do in being a productive citizen in your community — it is something no one can ever take away.

“Our expectation for him has always been to put just as much effort in the classroom as you do on the field/court; if not, there is no talented athlete. Playing sports will end; education lasts a lifetime.”

“His parents have done an outstanding job of teaching him far more than how to catch a pass or dunk a basketball,” Ridenour said.

“For me, in a college, No. 1 is academics; No. 2 is how I fit in their system; and third is the relationship with coaches — I don’t want to go where I don’t have a relationship,” Watson said.

He’s had a great relationship with his coaches at CHS, starting with Ridenour.

Finding a guy like Tre and molding him into a leader on the field, in the classroom and in the locker room is vital for any team’s success,” Ridenour said. “We have had some great players here that have taken on key leadership roles and led us to success. Tre is no different. He is truly #ProtectingTheTradition and leading this program the way it was meant to be led.

“Tre wasn’t hard to push into this role,” Ridenour said. “Tre has been preparing for this role he is about to play this season for a very long time. I am excited to see him finish his high school career on a very high note.”

A “high note” these days might be hard to describe. The Storm start voluntary workouts in “phase 1” on July 6, and this preseason won’t look anything like the past, as far as rigid requirements for social distancing, sanitizing, and coaches working with no more than five players at a time. The team’s opener is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 21.

“I have a lot of work to do, but I could see myself (in the NFL), Watson said. “I’ve got to get bigger, faster — so I can out-run those DBs and linebackers — and being a student of the game.”

Adding weight would be easier, wouldn’t it, gobbling down cheeseburgers?

“You can, it just has to be good weight. I can’t be eating cheese burgers and drinking sodas,” he said. “I’ve been on a diet; I only drink water, nothing else — a high-protein diet, lifting and doing a lot of field work with Chris Williams — his speed was ridiculous.”

Watson is also happy with the direction the 2020 Storm are taking.

“We just came up with our new slogan, ‘Carpe Diem,’ seize the day,” he said.

“I feel we have a great chance (to return to the championship game for the third year in a row),” he said. “We’ve been putting the work in, staying humble, follow (Ridenour’s) lead and we’ll be back there.”

Younger players, looking up to Watson and hoping to make the best of their athletic careers, take heed in his advice: “Keep working; listen to your coaches, your parents (and) school work always comes first. And stay humble.”

Tre Watson adds yardage after catching a pass in the 2018 championship game loss to La Cueva.