Choosing Football Not Easy Choice For Watson

New tailback Jerald Watson talks about his decision to turn down pro baseball bucks to play college football for AU.

Auburn, Ala.--He is far from being the largest freshman in Auburn's 2004 signee class, but Coach Tommy Tuberville is hoping that Jerald Watson can have one of the biggest impacts of any newcomer on this season's Auburn University football team.

In a race, Watson is probably the last Tiger who needs a head start to be a winner. However, he is off to a nice head start on his collegiate career after spending six weeks on campus before the start of practice, which begins Friday at 10 a.m.

"It has been a big help to be here this summer to get ready for the season," Watson says. "I am in real good shape and I am ready to go. In the classroom, I got six hours of credit so that is a good start there."

Jerald Watson is shown on campus on Thursday evening.

After Auburn signed the speedy running back, who was previously a verbal commitment to LSU, there was major concern that he would be enticed away from college football by a pro team selecting him in the Major League Baseball Draft. He was drafted in June as the 40th round pick for the Florida Marlins.

Watson, who was a star in football, baseball and track, says he gave the Marlins serious consideration. "It was a real tough decision because all I really wanted to do was play baseball," the outfielder says." It came down to be the best thing for me to come here."

Watson adds, "It was a last minute decision. It came down to the wire. They were pushing me. Auburn, they told me straight up, whatever I want to do they were backing me. They were behind me 100 percent.

"Those were the kind of things I needed. I didn't need somebody pressuring me. They are like a family here. That is a big reason I came here."

Tuberville says that he plans to give Watson an immediate look as a kick returner. The speedster spent last weekend back home in Morgan City, La., fielding punts from a friend who kicked for Louisiana-LaFayette.

The 5-9, 198-pounder ran for more than 5,000 yards in high school and was such a dangerous return man that by the time he was a senior opposing teams wouldn't kick or punt a ball near him, his high school coaches noted.

As a collegian, Watson says he wants to play both baseball and football, but says for now his focus is on football. "I just want to play to the best of my ability. I want to help the team any way I can. I have two big guys playing in front of me...four big guys playing in front of me." He joins the team with fellow freshman Brad Lester looking for a place on the tailback depth chart behind Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Carl Stewart.

Watson says that it will be tough to double in college football/baseball because the seasons overlap with fall training in baseball and spring training in football. He says if he has a big freshman season on the gridiron, he might bypass baseball, but that is a decision he won't have to make until later this year.

For now, Watson says he is content to be a college football player and notes he is enjoying being around his new college teammates and coaches. He says it was tough to walk away from the money pro baseball was offering him to play for the Marlins, but says he believes he made the right decision. "It's not tough to come to good people if you are walking away from money. It doesn't mean everything, you know."

Auburn fans will be able to meet Watson from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday at AU's annual Fan Day at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The Tigers will practice twice before meeting the public. Practices are set for 10 a.m. on Friday and 8:45 a.m. on Saturday. The Tigers put on the full pads for the first time on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. and the first two-a-days workout is on Wednesday with sessions at 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The first scrimmage is 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14th at the stadium.

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