Watts: "I'm still here"

When you get Sheldon Watts' voice mail you'll hear a gospel song with Sheldon yelling "I'm still here," at the end. It is fitting in several ways.

This story appears in the May 2005 issue of Wildcat Insider Magazine The song in question is called "No Weapons" and essentially states that with faith no weapon used against you will prosper. Watts is trying to live that life lesson.

Watts may play football again, which to many is a surprise. After being shot at a party many did not think the young offensive lineman would make it much less pull through.

The freshman football player is lucky to be alive.

While most of the team was returning home from a loss to UCLA, Watts and several friends decided to attend a party on the Southeast side of town. At the party, which was not necessarily attended by the typical collegiate demographic, a fight broke out and guns were pulled. Watts was an innocent bystander and was shot in the chest and wrist.

"Some people say wrong place at the wrong time, but it was a party," Watts said. "I don't think that was the wrong place for a college student. I am not a big party person, but I decided to go out that night with my friends and have fun. I wasn't expecting to get shot and almost killed. I don't see a problem with going to a party."

Watts learned that all parties are not the same. He did not know it at the time, but the house he was headed to was not near campus and there were not going to be many college students. He and the few teammates who attended soon learned the situation was not quite what they expected.

"You definitely need to pick your parties," Watts suggested. "Try to stay on campus. Try to pick parties close to campus."

The young man from Houston was not involved in the altercation and to this day does not totally understand what led to the skirmish. All he knows is that someone else's mistakes almost got him killed.

"I couldn't tell you too much about it," Watts said. "It shouldn't have happened. A gun wasn't necessary anyways. I don't think a gun is ever necessary."

It took a number of surgeries, but Watts pulled through. The wrist was of particular concern. The bones were shattered and doctors feared the nerves might be irreparably damaged.

Amazingly, the nerves have healed and he is using his right arm. He wears a brace on the wrist and isn't nearly 100 percent, but not only is he going to get full use of the arm, but it appears he will eventually take the field again as a player.

"It's not healed up all the way, but I feel like I am going to play again," Watts said. "I want to play again. I feel like I can play again, that's what I want to do and that's what I feel like I should be doing.

"I am happy with the progress my wrist is making. They said there was a chance it would not come back, and most likely that it was not going to come back. But it is starting to come back. The muscles are starting to react to the nerves. It's coming back."

Since the incident, however, Watts has had a hard time keeping on weight. He lost almost 60 pounds while in the hospital, due in large part to the stomach surgery. He's still having trouble eating like he used to, but thanks to some good home cooking and a will to get his strength back Watts is getting closer to the 285 pounds he weighed when he arrived in Tucson.

Watts has learned a number of lessons since the ordeal. He learned a lot about the power of friends and family. The athletic department, especially his coaches and teammates, rallied around him until his family could be by his side.

"The team was tremendous," Watts said. "That'll make you fight more. When you know you're supposed to be out with the football team and you are lying in a hospital bed with a big ol' thing on your arm. I felt the love from the team and the coaches. That definitely helped me pull through."

When he brings up his family he is noticeably moved. His parents traveled from Houston and were by his side for much of the rough times and rehabilitation.

"My family, ah, they were great through it," Watts said. "I don't even know what to say about my family. They stuck with me. The whole football team did. This whole thing is a family."

Watts has to take things slowly, but he's making progress towards getting back on the field. Prior to the spring he was running with the team and could do the majority of the sprints. He's also been lifting and can do all of the lifts, albeit at a lower weight.

"I do bench, I do incline, military press," Watts explained. "The weight is not extremely heavy right now, it's about getting the limbs used to lifting. It looks good so far. The only thing that was scary was the nerve coming back in the arm, but it is getting better. Progress is being made every day."

After a tragedy of this nature some may find that sports are not as important, but the opposite is true for Watts. He feels he's been given a second chance to play the game he loves and that he'd be wasting his God-given abilities if he did not try to get back on the field.

"God gave me the talent to play football, and to show my love back I just want to play and play to the best of my ability," Watts said.

For now coaching is as close as he can get. Watts has been given a chance to help out at practice and put in his two cents worth to help his fellow linemen. He still attends meetings and works with line coach Eric Wolford in molding the blockers.

It could be a career prelude.

"Coaching has always been a thought in my head," Watts said. "I love football. I know the game. I really like to say that my talent was being able to know the game better than my opponent."

An incident like this makes one reconsider his life. Watts is no different. He has always been a laid back, easy-going kid, but now he says he lives his life in "slow motion" and has learned to relish every little detail.

He's also excited to be in Tucson and part of the Wildcat football family. His enthusiasm for what they are trying to build has not been dampened. He may not be an active participant next season, but he remains a firm believer in the mission.

"That's why I am still here, I want to be a part of this magic," Watts said. "On recruiting trips people were like 'Arizona, what football tradition do they have?' I was looking at the big picture. Something great is going to happen here. And it is now. After that win over ASU you can see everything going uphill. With the strength and conditioning coaches we have here, plus coach Stoops and his coaching staff, you can see it happening."

Watts is convinced he will play again. He is not sure exactly when, but he truly believes it will happen. He is working hard to rehab his arm and get the rest of his body back in space.

Someday he hopes to step out onto the field at Arizona Stadium, not just in street clothes, but in full uniform as part of the team.

"I just want to play," he said. "It is going to be more than sweet. Just going out there and looking gives you that tingle."

For now Watts can only wait and work, but as his voice mail says, he's still here.

E-mail Brad at bradallis@msn.com

Wildcat Insider Magazine is the only publication devoted solely to University of Arizona Athletics. For more information on how you can subscribe call (520) 891-2347. The May issue is out now and is available at newsstands all over Southern Arizona.

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