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Glenbard West's Watt at peace with conflict
By Dave Oberhelman | Daily Herald Staff

Glenbard West Chris Watt

 

Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

Glenbard West's Chris Watt blocks Wheaton North Will Gemmel.

 

Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

Glenbard West Chris Watt dives into the end zone for a touchdown. verses Addison Trail.

 

Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/5/2008 12:01 AM

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On one hand he's a high school play-attending, J. Kyle Braid-leading, smiling, approachable senior.

On the other hand he's a 6-foot-4, 290-pound monster so intent on wreaking violence he sometimes can't hear the whistle.

That's Chris Watt - who he is off the football field, and what he does on it.

"It's all about flipping the switch," said Glenbard West's Watt, the two-time Illinois High School Coaches Association All-State offensive lineman and captain of the 2008 Daily Herald All-Area Football Team for DuPage County.

Mary Pat Watt knows her 18-year-old son - "Christopher" - as "mellow." She hears he's a courteous houseguest. Starting in organized football as an oversized sixth-grader at Lincoln Grammar School he had to play with boys one and two years older. But he was no bully.

"We never had trouble with him like that," she said.

At Duchon Field, on the road or in practice, Hilltoppers coach Chad Hetlet watched "the angriest person I've ever seen on a football field."

When Hetlet decided to award Watt's leadership in Glenbard West's homecoming game by letting him play tailback and crash the goal line for his first and only career touchdown, the play was called "Rhino Watt."

Not a nice animal.

High in the rankings

Be it a blend or a dichotomy, the barely controlled rage Watt channeled on more than 100 pancake blocks this season and the intelligence and skill to do it from every offensive line position but center made him Illinois' No. 1 recruit entering the 2008 season and 51st in the country by Rivals.com. Rivals also rated him the nation's No. 2 offensive guard and No. 4 pass blocker.

A leader by example who, ironically, blossomed as a vocal leader while missing two full games and parts of two others with a high ankle sprain, Watt was the focal point of a Glenbard West team that won its first West Suburban Silver title since 1994 and reached its first state semifinal since 1983.

"He's what gave the other kids belief that we could win," Hetlet said.

Watt felt the love not only from his teammates but from a fan base that hung on every hit the "Hitters" delivered.

"You definitely could feel support from the community. It's a very big community focused on football, just with the tradition we've had in the past," said Watt, who as a sophomore started on the varsity with his brother Kevin, now a redshirt freshman defensive end at Northwestern.

"It was great to have the community behind us. People talk about how you get pressure when you're winning all those games, but coach just told us take one game at a time and we had to be 1-0 by the end of the week."

The faithful who walked down Ellyn Avenue to Duchon Field providing that support found it was not a one-way street.

"The main thing was to restore the honor at Glenbard West," Watt said, "and get it back to where people respect the program. We think we did that."

For 12 straight weeks Glenbard West finished the week 1-0, losing only to Class 7A champion East St. Louis. Watt's blocking helped running backs Robert Cook and Bryant Venson each break 1,000 yards on the season.

With Watt, linemates Mike Dixson, Tim O'Neil, Mike Sandoz, Imran Ahmad and sophomore Jordan Walsh filling in nearly all season for injured co-captain Marty Detmer, the Hilltoppers ran for 3,886 yards and gave quarterbacks Chris Cochrane and Tyler Warden time and space to pass for 1,607 more.

"He just buried people when he blocked them," said York coach Bill Lech, whose playoff team lost 48-6 to Glenbard West. Against York Watt was flagged for one of his two personal fouls on the season, a supposed punch Watt maintains was a push.

"There's nobody in our league better than him," Lech said. "Who's the first kid you pick? I pick Watt."

One never knew where the big guy would line up - guard, tackle, tight end, to the right of center O'Neil, or to the left. He was utilized, Hetlet said, to throw the key block on a play wherever it had to be thrown.

Glenbard West ran behind Watt nearly all the time in crucial situations and about 75 percent overall, Hetlet said. That figure would have been higher had not Watt been sidelined either because he was banged up or the Hilltoppers, who outscored their opponents 455-111, were rampaging to another laugher.

Habitually humble in his weekly self-evaluation film sessions, Watt said he had 107 pancake blocks on the season. Hetlet had him for 143.

"He's got great athleticism, first of all, and an incredible motor for the offensive line. He looks to finish every single block," the coach said.

"Obviously, he's got good feet, his strength levels have skyrocketed from where he was last year. His initial punch is so much better.

"I don't think he really has a weak spot as an offensive lineman," Hetlet said. "He's a great pass blocker, a devastating run blocker. I think the assessment that most college coaches have of him is correct, that he's one of the best in the country."

Heavily recruited

A three-sport athlete who entered Glenbard West at 225 pounds and has added about 65 more through weight training, Watt committed to Notre Dame in July after receiving 26 Division I scholarship offers from sea to shining sea and two dozen points between.

Speaking last Sunday a few hours before Rich and Mary Pat Watt received Fighting Irish assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello for dinner, Chris said his decision remained firm.

If so, Notre Dame will get a player who was told by his uncle John "that he needed to play meaner," Mary Pat Watt said.

The opinion was seconded by Hetlet and Glenbard West line coach John Sigmund. They taught him, Watt said, "when you're on the field you have to be an angry person."

"Adrenaline starts pumping through my veins," he said. "I start getting into a nasty place no one can really get me out of until those zeros hit in the fourth quarter."

And then?

Off the field he's a soft- and well-spoken high-B student who enjoys miniature golf. When not playing varsity basketball or throwing shot put and discus with the track team, he may see a play at Glenbard West.

Watt is one of eight Glenbard West seniors tabbed two years ago to represent the school in the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation. As such, he'll address freshman health classes on sound decision-making mainly around drugs and alcohol.

He'll join teammates for deep discussions headed by assistant football coach Jeremy Cordell. Watt called it a Bible study, but as it touches on school work and life goals, it's really more than that.

Like Watt himself - more than the best, angriest player on the football field.

"Football is what we do, it's not who we are," he said.

"It's a thing that we love to do and we're going to do it to the best of our abilities, but there's going to be a point in time when you're not going to be able to play football anymore and you have to have other things that you really like to do.

"There's a bunch of things that I want to improve on and just become the best overall person I can be."

Daily Herald DuPage All-Area Football Captains

1989 - Jeff Thorne, Wheaton Central

1990 - Bill Korosec, Naperville North

1991 - Tim Miller, Glenbard North

1992 - Broc Kreitz, Waubonsie Valley

1993 - Bobby Nelson, WW South

1994 - Steve Havard, Wheaton North

1995 - Tim Lavery, Naperville Central

1996 - Tim Stratton, York

1997 - R.J. Luke, Waubonsie Valley

1998 - Jon Beutjer/Jon Schweighardt, WW South

1999 - Ryan Clifford, Naperville Central

2000 - Kyle Kleckner, Downers Grove North

2001 - Phil Horvath, Naperville Central

2002 - Brad Bower, Hinsdale Central

2003 - Tom Edwards, Downers Grove North

2004 - Cody Cielenski, Downers Grove North

2005 - Brett Morse, Hinsdale Central

2006 - Dan Dierking, WW South

2007 - Jordan Tassio, Naperville North

2008 - Chris Watt, Glenbard West