Rarely do we encounter someone who can truly inspire us. Being passionate fans of a sports team, we sometimes feel that athletes are superhuman, especially when comparing them to ourselves. The general public is able to know what pro athletes make on their paychecks, and probably know more about their personal lives than the athletes would like.
The bottom line? They are people, just like you and I. They have the same passion for the game, the same ideals about values, morals, politics..etc. as we do. Outside a few thorns in the NFL, I bet if we were to spend time with them, we might be surprised to find out they are regular human beings with a physical talent that exceeds most.
Since around the time of last year’s draft, I have been very fortunate to have a friendship with our own Craig Watts Jr. I did my first interview of an NFL player with Craig, was able to get him involved with an amazing Chargers website, BoltBlitz.com, and was able to have my nephew meet him out in Arizona – all the while tucked in my little corner of Florida.
What also makes Craig unique, is his reasoning on playing the game of football. “ Football was not my way out; I do it for myself because I love to play – not as a means to an end.”
Craig Watts Jr. is very comparable to….Craig Watts Jr. He has never wanted to compare himself to someone else, nor has he ever tried to emulate anyone. “Some players might even hate the game but they talked always about going to D-1 and playing in the NFL. I just wanted to play the game because I love the game. In all activities that I was involved with, I just loved the competitiveness of the whatever sport I was involved in.”
With so many accolades and adjectives to choose from when describing Craig, the one word that I confidently choose to use is humble. Speaking for over two hours with Craig, and hearing his routine of feeding the homeless when he goes out to eat, warms my heart with a sense of pride and validation in the goodness of humanity. He never informs people he encounters that he plays for the San Diego Chargers. Craig does not brag about feeding several people on the streets when he goes out. Have some of us done this? I know I have. So why would Craig get huge publicity from this when you and I have done something similar with no attention? Because Craig Watts Jr. is a human being first, football player second.
With that I would like to take you on a personal journey into the life of the offensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers, Craig Watts Jr.
BWK: As child, who was the most influential person in your life and why?
CW: I have to say my dad. As I got older, I realized how just how much I modeled myself after him; how much I am like him and our similarities. I would say a close second would be my brother. It was just the father-to-son and the brother-to-brother thing, which in itself is a strong bond. I feel that those two were very instrumental as far as what I saw as a role model and influence (to be).
I would also say that others who were a big influence in my life growing up were professional wrestlers. Me and my buddy idolized wrestlers and you could not tell us (back then) that we weren’t going to be professional wrestlers.
BWK: Was there any wrestler in particular?
CW: You know it’s funny that King (Dunlap) and I were just talking about this the other day. My top three were, on the WWE side, The Rock, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. And in particular, the “bad boy” persona of The Undertaker. He was a biker and came out Kid Rock. That portion of him (The Undertaker) I really enjoyed watching. But if I were to include all wrestlers and not just WWE, I would say Goldberg (as my favorite). Goldberg was the dude back then. There were a lot others I really enjoyed, but those were my top favorites.
BWK: How did you spend your summers during your youth?
CW: We moved around a lot so there was various things we would do. With my parents both in active duty me and my brother were usually left alone to be active during our summers. I would go to the YS (Youth Services) a lot. The YS is a lot like the YMCA but for military families. There was the teen center, pool tables, crafts, basketball courts and other activities. No matter where we were at, Kansas, Germany..etc, we were always involved in something. We never just sat at home.
BWK: What branch of the military were your parents active in?
CW: I was the only one in my family who was not involved in the military. My brother, who is about 5 ½ years older, was in the Navy for about 3 or 4 years and I believe is still active. My mother did 21 years in the Army as a medic. Then there was my dad who did 27 years in the Army as a logistics officer.
BWK: With both your parents being in active duty, were you and your brother and sister left alone for any period of time?
CW: From the best of my knowledge the military does a very good job if you have two parents in active duty; never deployed at the same time. Because I don’t ever remember that occurring. I was always with at least one of my parents. It was normal for me. Now thinking back I think the only time that might have happened was when my dad went to visit my mom who was deployed at the time, for their anniversary. But that was for a short time and we stayed with our Godparents.
BWK: In your formative years, was there a teacher that you remember having been particularly influential?
CW: Due to us moving around a lot, I went to 4 elementary schools, 1 middle school and 2 High schools. So I have seen my fair share of teachers and all of them were great in their own right. In fact, if you gave me time, I could probably name almost all of them.
But to pick the one that was most influential to me has to be Dr. Clarkand his wife, who is also a Doctor. They taught History and his wife was even my advisor. They definitely shaped the academic side of my life and I am still good friends with both of them today. Another person who I have to say was a huge influence on my academics was my mom. My mom would never let me miss a day of school even if I was deathly ill. Our family would move and I still would not miss a day of school. I remember attending one school on a Tuesday, which happened to be the last day I was attending there, and on Wednesday I was attending a new school; literally did not miss a day of school.
As far as my most influential instructor athletically, it is easily my high school coach at Killeen High in Killeen, TX. I was living in San Antonio and attending high school for a while and then moved to Killeen where Coach Gaskamp invited me to play football. He was the first person who really showed me what I could do with it (size and skill). There was a buddy of mine on the team who was all-everything and in the state of Texas that was huge. Coach Gaskamp took me aside and told me that if I trained hard enough, that I could be great.
BWK: Who was your very first love?
CW: I think the first person that I legitimately had a crush on, and I am sure she had no idea, was this girl named Alicia in middle school. I used to think she was the most perfect person on earth; she could do no wrong. I think I liked her because she was one of the popular kids but she was super nice to me. And as a self-proclaimed nerd, that was cool. Like I thought so much of her that if I were hanging off a cliff with a rope tied to my ankles and she cut the rope…I would tell everyone “It’s not her fault! Someone made her do it!”
BWK: What was your favorite music/band in high school?
CW: I liked everything musically but my affinity for great R&B and even jazz, was due to my dad’s influence. My dad listened to Kenny G. I know everyone makes fun of him but I thought he was the man back then. (Side note: BWK did in fact make fun of Craig for this)
The other album that I listened to so often was Maxwell’s album titled Now. It was just his face and like an orange cover. I knew every single lyric to every single song on that album. That was like the only album we would listen to on the way to soccer games. I really don’t think my dad took that album out of the car’s CD player for an entire year.
As far as like my soundtrack to my high school days though, I would say that it would have to be the band The Fall Out Boys.
BWK: What do you remember most about living abroad? Any interesting stories that the readers would enjoy knowing from your time out there?
CW: Without sounding too philosophical, the one thing I really learned from living abroad was unselfishness. Let me give you an example: We lived on a base of Americans in another person’s country, as a result of the most horrific thing that has ever happened on the earth (WWII), yet we loved the Germans and they loved us. You would think that if there was a base of Germans that was placed in like Lexington, Kentucky, how outraged people would be. But the Germans were not like that at all. I don’t remember anyone being too upset, being discriminatory, or even being messed with for that matter. Even when we moved back there the second time, the Czech Republic was tearing itself apart with Germany right next door, 9/11 had happened…etc., and the people were still friendly and unselfish.
BWK: So you were in Germany for 9/11?
CW: Yes I was. I happened to be home after school; which was different from all of my stateside friends since I was 6 hours ahead of them and already finished school for the day. Anyway, I only had about 7 channels to watch and I was trying to find Cartoon Network. Then I saw it and thought it was a movie trailer or a commercial. But something inside told me to call my dad. So I did. At first my dad tried to tell me over the phone by telling me that a plane crashed into a building. Well at 10 yrs old, that was not a good enough answer for me. I had a ton of questions about the incident, where it happened and what the World Trade Center was. My dad then told me that he would explain it when he got home. The base was on lockdown with a ton of extra security around. There was a gate that was always opened, we could come and go as we pleased. Now this gate was locked. It was an experience for sure.
BWK: What was your very first paying job?
CW: My parents didn’t want me to pursue getting a job because they were all about focusing on school and being a kid. I mean I had mowed some yards and such for neighbors. That reminds me of a funny little story. I remember there was a neighbor when I lived in San Antonio that paid me about $20 a day to feed their cats and water their plants. I remember being so irresponsible about this. It was such an easy job as they were just two houses down. I would sometimes forget to go, or I would lose the key, or just felt like an 11 yr old lazy kid. And if I did go, I would water those plants with a TON of water, thinking that I could pass on it for a few more days – not realizing you could drown a plant.
But seriously, the first actual paying job where I received a paycheck was when I attended West Texas A&M. I did it for all four years and actually when I first started, I thought it was a volunteer gig, so when I found out I was getting a paycheck, I freaked out. I was a peer leader at the campus; basically we were the face of the school. The kids would come out for orientation, usually during the summer, and we were assigned to them; kind of like their role models. We would hang out with them all day making sure they had all that they needed. These kids were already accepted into the school, they just had not yet enrolled for their classes. We were not there to recruit and we were not there as a tour guide. What I really loved was that it was workplace simulated. If there was a problem that we saw, we would fix it. My boss would come to me and tell me that we were involved and if there were changes that needed to be made in order for it to be better, whatever it was, then we should do it. It was very empowering. I am the only one, that I know of, that did it for all four years. I really enjoyed it and am still good friends with some of those incoming freshman today.
BWK: Do you remember how much your first paycheck was?
CW: We made an annual salary of $3,500 a year. Every other week I got a check for $146, like clockwork. I could not wait until payday and roll myself to payroll services for those checks!!
BWK: If you were not gifted as a football player, what do you think you would be doing right now?
CW: I would still be in school getting my composite Masters degree in international relations and national security. My emphasis in school was politics and American history and I wanted to pursue a career in a government-related field like the FBI or national defense.
BWK: Which professional athlete during your lifetime have you admired most?
CW: I loved and admired all sports and so I had a player or two from each sport that I really admired. In basketball it is Lebron James. I do watch and like watching basketball a lot, and cheered for the Chicago Bulls. Many pro basketball players I liked; kind of random, but I loved watching Shaq and Reggie Miller. As far as Reggie I really began to appreciate him more and his competitiveness on the court. In baseball, and I am not that big of a baseball fan, it was Ken Griffey Jr. He was such a pure athlete. Football wise, it was Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Those two have a great passion for the sport and their positions and I think those two are the most I identify with.
BWK: If there was a player, former or current, whom you want to mirror, who is it and why?
CW: One of the things that I would really like to become is a student of the game, become more knowledgeable about the game. In my position, there are multiple players whom I would like to mirror. I dont want to mold myself and my game after one guy but take a little from this person and a little from this person. For example, I would take the consistency of a Jonathan Ogden. He was reliable and that is a trait of a very good lineman; more accountable than flashy. His longevity as well is something that I would like to shoot for in my career. Another player at my position I would take from would be Bruce Matthews. His versatility would be the thing I take from him. Bruce was, I believe, a Pro Bowl player at two different positions; starting 3 or 4 years at a different position on the line. Now of course there are plenty of players that I am surrounded by daily with the Chargers, that I would learn from. As far as a current lineman whom I would take something from would be Joe Thomas (OT for the Cleveland Browns). I think his burst and speed is incredible. His first step out of his stance is tremendous and something to watch.
BWK: What is your most embarrassing moment?
CW: There are so many moments, but the first one that popped in my head was when I was about 8 years old and most of the time I wanted to hang out with my brother who is 5 ½ years older than me. So of course, hanging out with older kids is “very cool” right? So anyway, one day I was playing Monopoly with my brother, a few of our neighbor friends and one of their moms. I had just learned the word condominium, or at least associating it with hotels for the game. Anyway, at one point I remember cashing out my houses and saying “Yeah, put me down for new condoms.” Everybody was looking at me wondering what I just said. I didn’t even know what I said, I was just acting like I knew a big word
BWK: What is your greatest fear?
CW: I would say in the most simplest terms, that it would be death. As I got older, it wasn’t just the mere fact of dying that I feared. Let me explain this. When I was 11 years old, I remember being at home and watching re-runs of MTV shows. All of a sudden I had this weird nervous breakdown, like something that you might get going through a midlife crisis. At the moment for some reason I realized that we were all going to die someday.
BWK: Was it a certain show that you watched or something you saw on the TV that triggered this feeling?
CW: No, I think it was the fact that I was sitting around doing nothing. Like I thought to myself, “I’m wasting my life.” I am not sure what caused it, I couldn’t tell you. But I was just sitting there and it randomly hit me. I called my dad. I don’t know how a father is supposed to take that kind of call from his 11-year-old son ya know? Like he was just sitting there and now fielding a call from his son who just randomly, and through a sobbing voice, found out about the death of all humanity. As I have gotten older, my biggest fear is just…to not be. It is not the death or the dying that is my fear, it is the not existing. For example, Genghis Khan. Like his world was horrible but it was life back then. Now life is great and he wasn’t able to witness these times. That is what I mean. Like what is the world going to be and look like in 100 or 200 years? And knowing that I will not be able to witness or know what happens is my fear. Our brains can not imagine the absence of time or space, and I think that was my attempt to try and understand that. Because we don’t control our destiny and I feel that when it’s my time, it is my time. That’s the delicate balance when it comes to our own mortality.
BWK: What is your definition of happiness?
CW: To be free of sadness. Your happiness is dictated by what pleases you in life, by whatever your passion is. It is being content. If you don’t long for anything or you’re not looking at anything that would secure your place in life, you are happy. There are things left that I want to accomplish so in a micro sense, I am content and happy with where I am at. On the macro level of contentment, I know there is much more I want to experience and do which will ultimately define my overall happiness.
I would like to thank Craig for giving his time in providing this glimpse into his life. I want to wish him a very Happy Birthday today (June 20th, 2015), and wish him nothing but happiness and success. Most of us know what kind of player he is and how valuable he will be when he gets the call. I hope that with this interview people will see what an exceptional and valuable human being he is, as well as a talented football player.
Thanks for reading.
- Brian “Big Kahuna” Scott