Xavier Watts Wants To Improve His Game And Become A Leader

Xavier Watts Wants To Improve His Game And Become A Leader

The road to being an All-American was not typical for Notre Dame star Xavier Watts, and the complete story has yet to be written. Recruited as a wide receiver, Watts moved back and forth between offense and defense his first three seasons before finally settling in at safety late in the 2022 season. When he finally settled in, Watts became a star, and now he’s back for more.

Watts had a breakout season in 2023, earning unanimous All-America honors and winning the Bronko Nagurski Award after tying for the nation lead with seven interceptions. All seven of his turnovers resulted in points from the Irish offense, which adds to his impact last season. Instead of riding that momentum to the NFL, Watts decided to return for a fifth and final season in hopes of becoming an even better football player.

“It comes down to being comfortable, just having the mindset of like, I’m a veteran now,” Watts said when asked about how his game has evolved over the last year. “…. I have to know exactly what I’m doing. I need to know exactly what everyone else is doing and be able to command the defense. Just taking that progression from right now to last year and having a totally different mindset.”

Going into last season Watts was still considered somewhat of a newbie, as it was his first full season playing defense, despite him being a senior. Watts had mentors to learn from the previous two seasons, but now he is the veteran and the leader in the secondary.

“It kind of caught me off guard the first couple of weeks,” Watts said about being the veteran after the loss of DJ Brown. “When we were back on campus and I’m sitting in the locker room, it’s like, ‘Dang, I’m really kind of the old guy now.’ …. It’s a whole bunch of young guys, but it’s good to see. I’ll be able to help those guys really get ready so they. can start playing early and start learning the defense way earlier and start contributing way more early. It’s good to see.”

Learning from Watts and going into their second seasons has thus far been beneficial for the sophomore safety group of Adon Shuler, Luke Talich and Ben Minich.

“You see a different mentality with those guys, especially with most of the older guys gone,” explained the Notre Dame All-American. “It’s kind of their time to shine now. They’ve got to get more prepared. Obviously Adon has been getting a lot more locked in mentally. He’s been asking a lot more questions, he’s been taking it a lot more seriously. Luke and Ben as well, they’ve really been locked in. Everybody’s trying to perfect their craft and be the best version of themselves.”

Taking on the role of mentor and leader has been beneficial for Watts as well.

“It helps elevate my game as well,” Watts said of his role as a veteran leader. “It opens up a new kind of trait. I’m a laid back guy, but it makes me step out of my comfort zone and open up a new personality to start coaching the young guys because I know the whole defense. I can do everything, so now it’s just helping out the young guys and helps them elevate their game.”

Being a leader is important to Watts, but he also knows he needs to become an even better player, and can be an even better player. Ultimately, that is a huge reason why he returned for the 2024 season.

“The main reason I came back is to elevate my game to another level,” Watts explained. “I still think I’m a little raw at safety. I mean, I had a really good season last year, but I feel like I can have an even better season, even if it’s not with all those statistics. Really just elevating my game, taking that next step, and …. being a captain would mean a lot to me.”

Thinking about an improved Watts is certainly fun for Notre Dame fans to consider, but concerning for the Irish opponents. His improved game might not be as noticeable when watching him play, but his return and his elevation as a leader will absolutely show when watching the other players at his position.

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