Southern Miss redshirt freshman wide receiver Quez Watkins played like a veteran in the Golden Eagles’ 24-17 season-opening football loss to Kentucky last week.
Four catches for 103 yards, including one for 47 yards from quarterback Keon Howard early in the second quarter. He also caught a 5-yarder from Howard and came up with receptions for 21 and 30 yards in the second half from quarterback Kwadra Griggs.
Nothing to this college football, huh? Well, Watkins says it wasn’t as easy as it looks.
“The first play, my legs were shaking,” the 6-foot, 177-pounder from Athens, Ala., said.
“It was my first game to play in so long.”
Soon, however, the nervousness left the speedy receiver.
“After the first catch, that’s when everything went out the window and I was just playing ball,” Watkins said.
Of course, the first catch was the long catch.
“I knew I had him beat,” he said. “The ball was in the air and I knew I had to come back and get it. I had to make a play. I made it.”
For many Southern Miss fans, seeing an unfamiliar freshman on the M.M. Roberts Stadium field playing so well was something of a surprise.
But it didn't shock everyone.
“I hesitated to comment (about Watkins) leading up to the game because he hadn’t made any plays when the lights were on,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “But he’s been doing that at practice all camp.
“He’s a talented kid and I was happy just to see him in the game, because sometimes it takes a while to see what we see in practice move over to the game field. With him, it obviously didn’t. He is very calm out there, very, very confident. He plays well beyond his years as far as confidence level and his demeanor out there.”
Watkins has one more asset that really helps on this level. His running speed.
“I’m fast,” he admitted. “I look to run by people.”
How fast? Try 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That will definitely help to run by defensive backs.
Kentucky’s defense geared up to stop Southern Miss’ outstanding running back Ito Smith. Golden Eagle coaches know the Wildcats won’t the last team to do that.
“What we’re finding is that you can’t be a good football team if there’s just one guy that’s the guy,” Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson said. “What we’re establishing is that it’s fine if you’re going to load the box and take away Ito and you’re going to try and take away (wide receiver Allenzae) Staggers, but we’ll get the ball to Quez Watkins. We’ll get the ball to Korey Robertson. We have T-Rod (Daniels). The one thing we have here is that we have a lot of speed and guys that can make plays. That’s the one thing we saw with those guys like Quez and Korey. They’re phenomenal athletes, too.”
Now that his first game is over, Watkins is ready for Southern (La.) this week, at 6 p.m. Saturday at Roberts Stadium.
The four catches for 103 yards boosted the freshman into different territory.
“I have more confidence now,” he said.
No more shaking legs, that’s for sure.