Zach Watts was among those who played in Coach Rich Ellerson's initial season, and this year he will be among the juniors and sophomores who continue to form the foundation of a football program seeking greater heights.
With Ellerson and his staff continuing to bring in more talent with each incoming class, Watts will be on the defensive side of the ball with classmates such as Antuan Aaron (DB), Jarrett Mackey (DL), A.J. Mackey (DL), Josh Jackson (DB) and Waverly Washington (DB).
There will be no shortage of talented upcoming sophomores, among them being Thomas Holloway (DB), Tyler Dickson (DB), Reggie Nesbit (LB), Corey Watts (LB), Brian Zalneraitis (DL), Quentin Kantaris (DL), Justin Trimble (DB), Matt Luetjen (DB) and Ty Shrader (DB).
Watts, No. 2 on the depth chart last year at the Whip position, has no doubt that, despite the relative youth and inexperience of the defense, they will more than hold their own. "We have a lot of stiff competition at a lot of spots,'' he said Tuesday afternoon. "We don't have maybe a big-name guy like Josh McNary anymore, but that doesn't necessarily mean our defense won't be as productive.
"We still have the same coaching staff and a group of hard-working kids, so, I think we'll be able to pull out a good defense. Absolutely.''
Watts has been doing his part in the off-season as the defense takes part in cone drills twice a week, working with sleds or harnesses twice a week, and lifting and running four days a week.
He'll return home for about four weeks right after finals, where he'll just relax in his hometown of Pittsburgh before returning to West Point to be a squad leader during drills at Camp Buckner this summer.
He said he expects to report to football practice weighing about 210. And as an improved player from a year ago.
"My knowledge about the defense has grown a lot, which has enabled me to play a lot better. I know what's going on around me. I'm much more aware. That's definitely been my biggest asset,'' he said. "You always try and be stronger and faster, but at this point you always plateau in those areas.''
The Engineering Management major, a product of the United States Military Academy Prep School, called football at West Point, "A lot better,'' since he arrived here.
"The record speaks for itself,'' he said. "(Coach Ellerson) tries to keep us integrated with the rest of the corps of cadets, which I think is definitely a good idea. It helps the reputation all around school. I think the program is moving in the right direction. Hopefully we can go to another bowl game and get that big win against Navy this year.''
Last year he appeared in 10 games, started his first game vs. Air Force, blocked a punt against Rutgers, recovered a fumble against Tulane and finished with 13 solo tackles on the season.
Asked if plans on being a leader as an upperclassman, Watts said, "I think everyone on the field is a leader. I won't be directly, if at all I'll lead by example though my actions; not really vocally.''
He is not sure if his spot or responsibilities at linebacker will change at all this season, saying only that whatever they have him doing he will try and do his best.
His best, along with the best of these upcoming players, could, Watts thinks, lead to a special season. "If we work our hardest and stay focused on the goal,'' he offered, "we can definitely be better than last year.''
With the core of this team being what it is, the future should be even better.
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