Arkansas senior DT going full tilt

Tied for SEC lead in sacks, Watts shining for Razorbacks

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, September 22, 2018
Arkansas defensive lineman Armon Watts (90) tackles Colorado State running back Marcus McElroy during a game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas defensive lineman Armon Watts (90) tackles Colorado State running back Marcus McElroy during a game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo.

AUBURN, Ala. -- The light has come on for Armon Watts.

The University of Arkansas defensive tackle is finally getting his chance to shine as a fifth-year senior.

After playing a total of three games the last two seasons, Watts has emerged as a starter and is tied for the SEC lead with three sacks going into the Razorbacks' game tonight against No. 9 Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"I told a lot of people in the offseason that it's now or never," Watts said. "It's eat or starve."

Watts, 6-5 and 298 pounds, is eating well.

"Oh my God, Armon is amazing," Arkansas senior defensive end Randy Ramsey said. "We knew it was coming.

"The previous years he's been injured. A lot of people didn't know, but we always knew Armon was one of those guys that was a diamond in the rough.

"It's just showing, the talent that he's had since he's been here since Day One. So I'm not surprised."

Razorbacks defensive coordinator John Chavis said he's not surprised by Watts either.

"Not really," Chavis said. "He's got some talent."

Watts played well off the bench in the season opener against Eastern Illinois and had two tackles -- including his first career sack for a 7-yard loss -- and forced a fumble that Briston Guidry recovered in the end zone for a touchdown as the Razorbacks won 55-20.

Chavis, in his first season at Arkansas, decided to give Watts his first career start at Colorado State and he responded by making five tackles -- with another sack and forced fumble in the Rams' 34-27 victory.

Watts was a bright spot last week when North Texas beat Arkansas 44-17. He had two tackles -- including his third sack -- a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.

"It's satisfying for me," Watts said. "But I try not to over-think it too much. Being humble is something I pride myself on. To keep going where I want to go, I've got to stay humble."

Watts smiled when asked about being tied for the SEC lead in sacks.

"It's an accomplishment for me, especially where I've been and what I've gone through to get here," he said. "Still playing as if I've got a chip on my shoulder.

"Still underrated. Still slept on. Just more motivation."

Watts is the only interior lineman among the SEC players with three sacks. He shares the lead with Mississippi State senior end Montez Sweat and Vanderbilt sophomore outside linebacker Kenny Hebert.

While Watts is taking on blockers on the inside, Sweat and Hebert are rushing the quarterback from the edge.

"You've got to be relentless, man," Watts said. "On that interior it's hard to get back there as it is. So when you do get back there, you've got to make the most of it."

Arkansas Coach Chad Morris said Watts is taking advantage of his increased playing time.

"Armon is playing at a very high level right now," Morris said. "That's a tribute to him and his work ethic."

Watts' nine tackles this season have already surpassed his career total of seven entering 2018. He's the first Razorback with a sack in each of the first three games since Randy Garner in 1998.

"A lot of times when you get a player that has been in the program for as long as he has, once he gets his chance, once it's his turn something just changes," Morris said. "The leadership changes, the style of play changes. "It's just a lot of maturity. So I'm very proud of him. He's been consistent."

Watts, who is from St. Louis and played at Christian Brothers College High School, said he considered transferring from Arkansas earlier in his career.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "There were times I thought I might be better off somewhere else.

"But in my mind, I had to look in the mirror and say, 'It's up to you to change it. It's not the coaches, not nobody else.'

"So that's when I took it upon myself to get better."

Watts said he knew he had to be more consistent with his offseason workouts and practices to earn playing time.

"Last year I had a good spring, but I didn't necessarily bring it to camp," he said. "This year I was pretty consistent throughout camp.

"I think the work I put in during the spring and then the fall was recognized by the coaches like, 'You've got something special if you keep going at it.'

"That's what ultimately got me here. Then game time came, plays came my way and I continued to make them.

"I felt like a lot of people didn't know what I was capable of doing. I thought it was time to show them, 'Hey, this is me. This is what I can do.' "

Watts said his mindset has been as important for his success this season as his physical ability.

"I was always able to play physically," he said. "But mentally knowing I can do this and not hold myself back -- keeping my goals high to reach -- has been big.

"I'm not letting up. It's going to be a long day for whoever's in front of me."

Sports on 09/22/2018

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