Fresno State’s Tre Watson made his second catch in the New Mexico Bowl inside the UTEP 10, setting up another Bulldogs TD. (Gary Herron photo)

Former Storm football and hoops standout had two receptions in last month’s New Mexico Bowl

Attending and playing football at Fresno State University has “exceeded all expectations,” says Tre Watson, spending time at home for the holidays after catching two passes in the Bulldogs’ 31-24 victory over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 18.
“It’s been fun. The coaches have done a great job with me and my friends that I have made there along the way,” Watson, a former football and basketball standout at Cleveland High. “They’re really good to me, so it’s been fun.”
He likes the freedom in Fresno.
“They just tell you to be smart. They treat us like adults in college: Just be smart, do what is best for you,” he said, which is easy for Watson after his upbringing.
“The biggest thing was ‘know who you’re hanging out with, always know who your circle is, because whoever you hang out with, that’s who you are, who you’re going to become,’” he recalled as the parental message. “I always surrounded myself with guys who had ‘like’ minds; obviously, all my friends are playing college football somewhere.”
Watson, whose Storm career on the gridiron began when he was a freshman and evolved into All-State first-team honors not only in football but also in basketball, played sparingly as a freshman in the 2021 season.
Nonetheless, his parents, Clayton Sr. and Michelle Watson, traveled to every Fresno State game except the Bulldogs’ game at Hawaii, which was fan-less.
Naturally, crossing the Rio Grande to see No. 84 in the New Mexico Bowl capped a great season for the whole family.
The Bulldogs (10-3) will have a “new” head coach in 2022 — not necessarily brand-new because Jeff Tedford coached Fresno State from 2017-19 before departing, citing health reasons. Last season’s coach, Kalen DeBoer, and a handful of his assistants announced they were headed north to the University of Washington.
Watson said the change at the top shouldn’t affect him: “Right now, after talking to the head coach, the offense will remain similar,” Watson said. “My role, individually, shouldn’t change that much — it’ll be different calls and stuff, just because it’s a new coaching staff.”
Hitting the road for longer trips than his days at Cleveland — bus rides to El Paso and Clovis among them — “wears on you, over time, but it’s fun.”
The Bulldogs’ away games — outside of California — were at Oregon, Hawaii, Wyoming and then Albuquerque for the bowl game. The family’s already looking forward to Fresno State’s Mountain West game at University Stadium, yet to be finalized in the fall.
“We usually travel two days before the game — it’s sort of a SWAT-team mentality, get in, get out,” he explained. “We always have a curfew, so we’re always trying to get to the nearest mall, walk around a little bit, see what it’s all about.”
Vick was early idol
Growing up in Virginia, Watson’s first football hero was Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick, and he initially wanted to play there.
“That was my dream school growing up, then (my family) started moving west and I fell in love with USC,” he recalled. “I wore 7 growing up (like Vick).
“Growing up, I played baseball, football, basketball and I did karate for a long time,” he said. “Growing up, (I was probably best) in football. Baseball was too slow for me — my parents said I was in the outfield, playing with flowers and stuff. It was a little too slow for me.”
At Cleveland, he wore 11 in football and 1 in basketball, but, coincidentally, he was given No. 84 when he was a freshman at CHS — and so he wasn’t disappointed when he began wearing 84 with the Bulldogs.
“I would say my disappointment was the air quality — because of all the fires in California. We had a lot of smoky, foggy days,” he said. “I think we went about two weeks without the sun.
“Coming back here, seeing clear skies, being able to take a big, deep breath in — that’s always a good day,” he said.
His personal highlight from ’21, he said, was “Honestly, beating (No. 13) UCLA (40-37 in L.A.); like that was, to me, the highlight of my year. We worked hard that week and then for it all to pay off on Saturday, it was dividends for sure.”
How well had the Storm program prepared him for that proverbial “next level”?
“I was talking to coach (Heath) Ridenour … telling him how his program was set up just like a college program: film, weights in the morning, practice, like twice a day almost.
“Really, it gets you ready. Obviously, speed doesn’t compare to high school; that’s different. But the program definitely prepared me.”
He’s no longer a wideout, though; the Bulldogs moved him, because of his size — he’s 6-5 and weighs 237 pounds — to the offensive line.
“I think going into COVID I was 205 pounds,” Watson said. “And a year went by and now I’m 237; I believe in just putting the work in will get it done for you. … 245 would be my ideal (playing weight).
How’s that position change working out, he was asked.
“It’s definitely grown on me. In high school, I was more of a receiver prototype. But I’ve fallen in love with the tight end position.”
It took a while, he admitted, getting used to the “signage” used by the coaching staff and being where he was supposed to be and doing his assignment properly, but because CHS had an up-tempo offense, he soon adjusted to what the Bulldogs were running.
That’s not all Watson does for the Bulldogs, blocking and catching passes: “To be able to play as a freshman, you have to play on special teams. That’s a given. … I played on punt-return; I played on kick-return; I played on field goal and I played on punt, for a little bit. I feel I have to take advantage of any opportunity that I got.”
At Cleveland, Watson helped block on the edge for points-after and field-goal attempts, so he wasn’t a stranger to special teams.
“Coach Ridenour always has everyone dialed in; he’s a great coach with great guys around him,” Watson noted.
He started two games for Fresno State, hoping for more playing time in 2022.
“I hope I’m targeted more. I understood my role this year, but I think that if I continue to grow and get better, keep studying the game, I do believe my role can grow on offense.”
He still remembers a “drop” he had in a 38-30 win vs. UNLV: “Early in the first quarter; it was kinda low, but it went right through my hands.”
Not only did the football program at CHS prepare Watson for college, so did the academic load during his high school days.
He’s majoring in business and “hoping,” he said, to minor in sports marketing at Fresno State, but — like many collegians — he dreams of someday suiting up in the NFL.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” he said. “Obviously, I’m there to get a degree, but I’m going to work hard to play at the next level.
“It’s going to be a lot of work — a lot of work.”
Don’t bet against this guy.