Idaho Vandals

Idaho Vandals’ Deon Watson slides smoothly into new spot

Consuming mass calories and doubling up on meals, it’s the sort of thing most people wish they could do.

But it’s work for lanky junior Deon Watson, who has moved from wide receiver to tight end for the Vandals’ football team. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he’s added about 15 pounds in the offseason and hopes to add more before the Sept. 3 season opener against Ohio.

“I’ve been a skinny boy my whole life, so it’s been a challenge,” Watson said. “It’s a pain in my butt sometimes, but I know it’ll be worth it.”

The Coeur d’Alene High graduate is Idaho’s top returning receiver from last season, when he had 37 catches for 343 yards. He made the move to tight end before spring practices. At first, it appeared a curious move with only two other receivers who had a reception last season due back in 2015. But 2013’s top receiver, Dezmon Epps, was reinstated, and the Vandals had no tight ends returning with game experience.

“(Receivers coach Charley) Molnar brought it up to me before spring ball, and the interesting thing is that moving to tight end was always in the back of my mind when I thought long-term,” Watson said.

At the time, coach Paul Petrino said his goal was to get faster at all positions, thus the moves. Though he may not have blazing receiver speed, Watson as a tight end will be a mismatch for linebackers.

“The coaches have mentioned it, not too much because they’re worried about scheme, but I know I can use my speed against those guys. They’re bigger, but I’m quicker,” Watson said.

The Vandals scored on 72 percent of red-zone trips last season (114th in the Football Bowl Subdivision). In their 50 possessions inside the 20, they had five touchdowns. Watson’s size, leaping ability and hands have made a difference in fall camp.

“I don’t want to make a huge deal about it going into the opening game, but hopefully we can use him down there,” Petrino said.

Watson, who had touchdowns of 68 and 69 yards in the last two spring scrimmages, has a confident mentality when the big guys are targeted near the end zone.

“Every time I line up by the goal line, the ball is mine and it’s no one else’s,” he said.

As he hopes to add a new element to the passing attack at tight end, Watson’s new position entails a change of mentality. No longer does he think from the outside, but instead on the inside, lining up against those big uglies on the defensive line.

Blocking has been a learning process, but Watson has embraced it, looking to further add to his repertoire.

“It’s definitely something I had to grow to love,” he said. “I know the route concepts, but I need to keep working on learning the fronts, the blocking schemes. It’s completely different, but I’ve got the hang of it, and I love the physical aspect now.”

NOTE: The Vandals will hold their first scrimmage of the fall at 11 a.m. MT Saturday in Moscow.