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Former Penn Wide Reciever and current Buccaneers wide-out Justin Watson is preparing to play the first Superbowl of his career on Sunday. (Right Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Credit: Chase Sutton

Former Penn football wide receiver and current third-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout, Justin Watson, also known as "JWat", is preparing to play in the first Super Bowl of his young career. With the big game only a couple of days away, here’s what Watson had to say about preparing for the game, the 2020 season as a whole, and his career journey up to this point.

DP: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL season has been much different than it has before. What has this season been like with the added regulations and protocols required by the pandemic?

Watson: 2020 was such a hard year for all of the [COVID-19] related reasons that so many people are feeling, but it was a hard season in football too. A lot of the things that are so enjoyable about football—the fans, family coming to games, friends being at games—that was all taken away. So, it’s been challenging [to stay] focused playing in isolation [and] keeping the whole team healthy from the virus while still finding a way to put the same level of work and execution in. But it’s been such a rewarding year, and that’s been one of the best parts of this Super Bowl run. You put so much work in every year, and you just hope to see the results of it. To now be playing in the biggest game and to be one win away from the Lombardi Trophy… [it] is just really rewarding to see all the hard work come to fruition.

DP: Now, in your third season in the NFL, have you matured as a player and professional since you entered the league?

Watson: In college, you think you put a lot of time into football because you might put a couple of hours a day in and then after class you might put an extra hour in. But when this becomes your full-time job, and you don’t have class anymore or an internship anymore, this is it. It’s fun at first, but you start realizing you know all these other guys have ten hours a day to put in the work too. [By] putting all that additional work in, you just start to figure out what works in the NFL and what doesn’t. You know there’s a lot of things that worked in college [and] that worked in the Ivy League, but that don’t work for me anymore. So, it’s just been a process, watching guys like Mike Evans, watching guys like Chris Godwin, and seeing what works for them every offseason. [You] have something to work toward and really [have] to do it on your own because there’s no coaching leading you through it every day, and your teammates all go home at the end of the season. So, it’s up to you to put the work in and come back as a new player with your flaws from last year patched up for the new season.

DP: You mentioned the things that have changed since you entered the NFL. However, what are some things that you have been able to carry with you since your time at Penn?

Watson: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten, I got right when I got to the NFL. Everyone wants to talk about “you need to improve your weaknesses and improve your weaknesses to try to gain more ground.” In college I did that so much, but at a certain point, someone told me, “Man, your strengths are what got you into the NFL and your strengths are what are going to keep you in the NFL.” So, while you can spend some time improving your weaknesses, you really have to make sure your strengths are dialed in. So, for me, it’s being a big, strong, tall, fast, physical receiver with good hands, and those are things I had in college. I have to work to keep those things in the NFL because [they are] what brought me here and are what’s going to keep me here. But then the smaller things, like looking more fluid in my routes and getting all my routes to look the same through the first ten yards, [are] something that I can keep improving on and keep getting better at to move up in this league. But I think that just [focusing] on those strengths that worked in college is just going to keep me around.

DP: In the past offseason, and even during the season, your team added a lot of new personnel. How did you, as a team, adapt to playing with a new offensive group, and how has team chemistry evolved?

JWat: We certainly knew that the margin of error for us was going to be a lot less because it was going to be new for a lot of us, [especially] getting used to a new quarterback. I remember it started way back when we first signed Tom [Brady], when he got down here in May and we started throwing at a high school field, just tight ends and wide receivers, and we’d meet there a couple of times per week. Then, we got into camp, and it was a whole new wave of issues we had to work through: playing against a defense and getting everything communicated within the time clock. Then, we played our first game and kind of got punched in the mouth against New Orleans and lost the first game pretty bad. Then, we came back and won a few after that, and then we kind of got punched again pretty good by New Orleans I think in Week 9, and that’s when we got Antonio Brown. We [also] signed Leonard Fournette a few weeks before that, and so we realized we had a long way to come, but we had so much talent. We knew if we could just find a way to just win games, enough games to get into the playoffs, that by the time December came, by the time January came, that we would figure this thing out as long as we could just keep putting together enough wins just to get in. So, that’s why when we got in as the fifth seed, we didn’t worry about having to play three road playoff games in a row, because we knew with the talent we had, once we figured it out, that we were going to be good enough to beat anybody, home or away.

DP: With all the challenges of this season, what would a Super Bowl victory mean to your team?

Watson: As a team, it’s been a long time since we were in the playoffs or since there was any type of championship in this organization. We just have so much talent, and we have a lot of guys who hopefully can be here next year, but who knows? So, we’re feeling the mindset of "we have to get it done this year, there’s no tomorrow and there’s no next week, [because] who knows what next year is going to look like." So, it makes it easy to get up for this game because of how much you put into it. [With] the last twenty weeks of playing football every Sunday, [we] finally want to finish the season celebrating and holding up the Lombardi Trophy.

DP: At this point in your career, what would a Super Bowl victory mean to you personally?

JWat: For me personally, it really goes beyond myself. In the last two weeks since we won the NFC Championship, so many people that I grew up with in Pittsburgh, that I played with, that coached me at Penn, or that I’ve met since then have just reached out, and I just felt how proud they are and how excited they are. So many people had a hand in getting me into the NFL, getting me through Penn, and [getting me] to where I’m at today, and so it would just be an unbelievable accomplishment for more than just myself. So, that’s why we all really want to finish this thing, but me personally, I really want to finish this thing with a ring just to see how excited so many people around the country will be.