Watts finds home at running back

By CAMAL PETRO,

Petal senior Nataurean “Phat” Watts has been quite the journeyman on the field since he arrived at Petal last summer.

Playing quarterback at his former high school, Richton, he was given a shot in Petal to be a signal caller prior to the 2016 season, but the coaches found a lot of value with him as the slot receiver. Fast-forward to September 2017, he’s played defensive back and now he’s the team’s go-to running back.

Being in the backfield is somewhere Watts wants to be, too.

“I’ll do whatever to help the team,” he said. “When I moved here, I was playing quarterback, then receiver, then DB and now running back, so I’ll fit wherever to help us. You can see the whole field (from the backfield). I like being in the backfield regardless if it’s at quarterback or running back.”

(Editor’s note: Phat and Natorian “Deuce” Watts were featured in the 2017 Football Outlook Magazine.)

Petal coach Marcus Boyles said before the season Watts was his team’s best running back, but he wasn’t one of the four names he listed when asked who the running back will be when the season starts. After just one game, Hunter Cripps has stayed at his natural position on defense and one running back was injured, so Boyles was left to move Watts into the backfield to split time with sophomore Micah McGowan.

“The scheme is good, and I’m just trying to run hard,” Watt said. “Coach needed somebody else in the backfield, and I guess me and Mike McGowan did well, so he stayed with us.”

In the 28-21 win over Gulfport, Watts’ first game at the position, he rushed the ball for 77 yards on 18 carries. Against Brother Martin the following week, he had a season-high 135 yards on 27 carries, and then in last week’s loss to Laurel, he had 124 yards.

During those three games in the backfield, he’s racked up seven touchdowns, too, plus one receiving touchdown in Week 1 against Hattiesburg. That’s something he’s going to joke with his brother, Deuce, about, because Deuce gave Phat a hard time last season when Deuce had eight touchdowns to Phat’s two.  

“Oh, yeah,” Phat said. “I’m going to definitely make sure he knows.”

Phat said his first goal while rushing the ball isn’t to hit a home run, but after 10 or so yards, if he looks around and sees open field, he’ll switch to a higher gear to score.

“When I get past the defensive line, I read the linebackers,” Watts said. “I know a linebacker isn’t going to tackle me in open field, so if I get past the D-line I’m really trying to go for a first down.”

Petal is currently 2-2 on the season with wins over Brother Martin and Gulfport while losing to Laurel and Hattiesburg. After this week’s off week, the Panthers will open district play with Pearl, Oak Grove and Brandon in consecutive weeks. Watts said his team is focusing on correcting the mistakes from the two losses, which include six turnovers and 14 dropped balls, before turning their attention to Pearl next week. If Petal can correct those mistakes, Watts added, his team is “deadly.”

Watts isn’t shy about his expectations for the Panthers this season, and he says his team will be ready for the gauntlet of Region 3-6A. A team from Petal’s region – dating back to 5A – has represented the south in the state championship for the last 12 seasons.

“It just makes us go harder, because we know they’re some of the best teams in the state,” Watts said. “We have the hardest district, and going against them and beating them, it lets us know we can beat anybody. It’s just a battle every day.”