The Michigan football team’s game against Maryland was not in doubt with just over 4:30 to play.
The 15th-ranked Wolverines had just driven down the field and scored to go up, 35-14, and the Terrapins’ ensuing drive felt more like an effort to make the score respectable than an attempt to climb back into things.
So on third down, when Maryland quarterback Kasim Hill dropped back and threw a 46-yard pick-six to fifth-year senior cornerback Brandon Watson, the greatest effect was not on the result of the game. Instead, it was on Watson and his teammates, who have seen him develop into a solid cornerback and a leader on the defense.
“He’s very deserving of that,” said senior safety Tyree Kinnel. “He’s like one of the old guys around here, so, you know, everyone respects him. Everyone looks up to him around the building. And he’s been working so hard through his five years here, and that’s a well-deserved play for him. I’m just happy for him. I know he’s happy for himself, and everything’s good. I thought we played really well today, and he’s a big part of the reason why.”
The play continued what could only be categorized as a successful season for Watson so far. He has been one of the biggest surprises, considering his past within the program.
Watson was a three-star recruit in the class of 2014. He redshirted his freshman year, and for the last three seasons, has wavered between being mainly a special teams contributor and a cornerback when the starters need a spell.
There wasn’t much reason to believe that would change this season, as juniors Lavert Hill and David Long were one of the best cornerback tandems in the country last season.
But ever since the beginning of Michigan’s season opener against Notre Dame, Watson has consistently rotated in alongside Hill and Long. In fact, he made an instant impact, recording his first career interception against the Fighting Irish.
You could even make the case that Watson has been the most consistent cornerback on the Wolverines’ roster.
“B-Wat been consistent since last year, in my opinion” said junior linebacker Devin Bush. “He’s been consistent since last year, this offseason, spring ball, camp, you know, he’s always been B-Wat. So, I mean, I expect that out of him.”
Perhaps the difference this season is Watson’s experience, which has catapulted him into a leadership position on a defense chock full of talent.
“He’s developed a lot as a leader, you know, leading our defense, making sure we’re doing everything we’ve gotta do, taking over the corners room as a leader,” said junior VIPER Khaleke Hudson. “He’s a great leader for us, and I really like him.”
“He’s grown, technique-wise. He’s grown into a leader,” added Kinnel. “… With me and him being the leaders back there, we just try to motivate and be the leaders back there. And he’s improved so much individually, so I’m excited for him.”
The theme here, of course, is happiness for Watson, getting a definitive big play to point to as a mark of how far he has come in his career. And that was evident after Watson’s interception.
As he sprinted into the endzone, Watson didn’t stop, jogging all the way across the field and back to the sideline, where he was mobbed and knocked over by his teammates, eager to celebrate a pick-six that meant more for sideline spirits than it meant for the outcome of the game.