If you’ve seen 6-foot-4, probably-bigger-than-listed
333-pound defensive lineman Gabe Watson punishing opponents week
after week for Michigan, there’s one activity that you
definitely wouldn’t expect to see him participating in.
But, according to Watson’s cousin-in-law, linebacker Roy
Manning, that’s exactly the skill that Watson added to his
repertoire over the summer.
During summer workouts, Watson began to show off his moves, and
all his teammates went nuts following his performance.
Watson’s collection of talents also includes a proficiency
at impressions — and the list of targets includes Michigan
coach Lloyd Carr.
“It’s not that hard” to do a Carr impression,
Manning insisted, before quickly claiming that he had never
attempted to imitate the Wolverines’ head man.
“It’s good to have guys like (Watson),”
Manning said. “He’s making jokes all the time, doing
(his) little funny voices and things like that. It’s good for
the team, keeping guys not so serious.”
Still, while Watson, now in his junior season, may be a walking
Comedy Central special off the field, he’s all business on
it. That has become apparent this year, as the Novi native has
constantly disrupted opponents’ plans to run the ball up the
middle or sit a quarterback in the pocket.
And while Watson’s sack numbers — he has yet to
record one this season — are far from overwhelming, he has
recorded 11 tackles and has numerous quarterback pressures.
His play up front has left Manning impressed with more than just
Watson’s ability to bust a move.
“I think this is (the best he’s played at Michigan),
most definitely,” Manning said. “He’s focusing a
lot more and going out there and being the player that he should
be. He’s a great athlete, he’s very talented and
he’s going to be a great player here.”
This season marks the first time that Watson has been able to
crack the starting lineup — he came off the bench in every
game last year. He entered Michigan as one of the most
highly-touted recruits in the country, but was played sparingly his
freshman year, sitting out five games and registering a mere two
Unable to live up to his seemingly endless potential in his
first two years in Ann Arbor, Watson was eager to grab a starting
spot in 2004.
“I believe I have a lot to offer,” Watson said when
asked about his struggles during Michigan’s preseason media
day. “The last couple of years, I was behind two good
defensive linemen (Grant Bowman and Norman Heuer), but this is a
big year and I hope to do real good things.”
So far, so good for Watson this season. Now an unchallenged
fixture on the Michigan front, he has anchored the Wolverines in
their move to a 3-4 defense, often proving immovable for opposing
In one of the more obvious examples of his dominance this
season, Watson was at the center of Michigan’s dramatic
goal-line stand in the first half at Notre Dame. He drove the Irish
line back on fourth down, allowing his teammates to stuff running
back Ryan Grant shy of the goal line.
But the lack of sacks has frustrated Watson this year and left
him aiming his goals skyward, again.
“I know I can play a lot better,” Watson said.
And regardless of how well he may have played in
Michigan’s first three games, the big man knows he’ll
have to crank it up again when the Wolverines host a physical Iowa
team on Saturday.
“Whenever you’re in the stadium, you want to go
hard, hard, hard, so that’s what I try to do,” Watson
said after Michigan’s win over San Diego State last weekend.
“And if I push the pocket in, I push the pocket in. If I
don’t, then I have to do something different to push
As for Michigan, Watson believes his personal improvement is
just as critical as the unit’s as a whole.
“We’re not great, but we’re good,”
Watson said. “Every week, we’re trying to improve and,
if we continue to do so, we can make a run at the Big Ten