Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

The Main Men! ; Former Basketball Prospect Menelik Watson Has Plotted a Stunning Course from Longsight to the Brink of American Football's NFL

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

The Main Men! ; Former Basketball Prospect Menelik Watson Has Plotted a Stunning Course from Longsight to the Brink of American Football's NFL

Article excerpt

IT is a story straight from the pages of a Hollywood script. The tale of a young man who beat the odds to find success and glory pursuing the American dream.

But the fact that this particular young man had a tough upbringing in one of the less salubrious corners of Manchester, England - and is still a novice in his chosen field - makes his story all the more remarkable.

Menelik Watson was a promising young basketball player a couple of years ago.

Now, after switching sports and countries and making an amazingly rapid rise to top of the pile, he is on the brink of American football stardom in the NFL - tipped as a high first-round pick when the 2013 draft takes place at New York's Radio City Music Hall next month.

That puts him at the forefront of the USA's talent list heading into the glamorous and richly-rewarded professional ranks - just a couple of years after taking up that most archetypically American of sports.

After making a name for himself locally as a basketballer in Manchester, Longsight lad Watson - a 6ft-plus man mountain even as a teenager - attended the Gran Canaria Academy to pursue a career in the game, before accepting a scholarship in the US.

But his open-minded approach to his future and his the best use of his physical attributes, saw him make an unlikely and successful change in direction to American football.

"I discovered football on television," Watson told a US website when quizzed on just how a basketballing Brit managed to break into the sport.

"I was 23 and I had never played football. I didn't know about football.

"I didn't even know how to put on pads, but I knew I would be good. It was just my mindset. It's been a lot of fun. I love to study. I love to try and learn new things."

That adventurous outlook - he even briefly tried his hand at boxing - saw him quit his basketball career after a short spell at Marish College in New York and head west to play football at Saddleback Junior College in California.

By the end of his first season he was a starting offensive tackle and a move to the prestigious Florida State was sealed after his impact had set college scouts scrambling.

But, after just a year there - and a career total of 20 games in his new sport - Watson, with stunning self-confidence, decided to enter the April NFL draft as a junior.

Former Burnage High deputy head Graham Williams coached Watson when he was a pupil at the school - and later oversaw his progress at Manchester Magic.

He is warmed, if not completely surprised, by his former protege's progress.

"When I did basketball at the school he was one of a bunch that came in and played at lunchtimes," he said.

"He did well and enjoyed it and became part of a group called Burnage Bulls that played in the Friday night league at the Amaechi Centre.

Quick "His potential was spotted and he played for Manchester in the National Leagues. …

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