Standing next to the man, it’s hard to believe that Menelik Watson didn’t begin playing football (at least the American version) until college, but it does help provide an explanation why the 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman has battled injury through the early parts of his NFL career.
Born and raised in Manchester, England, Watson grew up on the soccer pitch. He transitioned to basketball after an injury, which led to him to the United States where would eventually take up American football. The toll of transitioning his body into one that can withstand the beating an NFL offensive lineman endures has been great, but the 28-year-old is now feeling healthy and fit in his first season with the Denver Broncos.
Watson joined Gil Whiteley, Arran Andersen and former Broncos wide receiver Mark Jackson following practice at training camp on Wednesday, and provided some insight into what it took to transform into an NFL lineman, and the toll it took on his body.
“Coming into football – two years into football – I was a basketball player being at 300 pounds being able to run and jump. Then coming into football you’re more grounded, training is completely different, I’m eating a lot more, I’m lifting a lot heavier. I never lifted until I started playing football when I went to the Raiders [as a 2013 draft pick] actually after they drafted me, I packed on a lot of weight and size, then the muscle tears started happening,” Watson said.
Adding to his challenge of staying healthy was the fact that he didn’t feel much support from his former team.
“First of all, I’m really two semesters into playing football,” Watson explained. “I’m in the NFL – I got a muscle tear right before training camp and then I have four tears in one year in the same leg, I teared a meniscus in the other leg, so it’s just an injury-plauged year and honestly there wasn’t that much help, that much direction. I was on my own trying to figure it out. So just going on, going into the next year I had a really good year, until I broke my foot in St. Louis. [I] came back the next year had a really great camp and then having that Achilles injury [in preseason] it was like at some point you really start to question, ‘Is my body ready for it?’ So it was kind of like a reset button.”
Fortunately, Watson has one of the top training staffs in the league at his disposal now and says he’s been on the receiving end of top-notch attention and care since signing with Denver.
“Coming here with this great staff, the way I have been lifting the way I’ve been conditioning, the mindset has just helped me so much more this year, just being comfortable and feeling strong and sturdy, I’m ready to just break out,” he said.
Additionally, Watson has made a personal investment in his health – not just of time and energy, but financially as well.
“[I thought] after I [tore] my Achilles I was good, and I came back the next year, last year, started off really well and then had another calf injury in Tennessee,” Menelik said. “At this point I’m just sitting on the field asking myself ‘What is there left to do?’ and I took that time to really focus in on the mind really. I got back at it, to work, and I didn’t miss a practice or game after that. Was back practicing early just spending thousands of dollars on doctors and stuff to keep my body fresh, and I understand now that the investment in your body is everything. You hear guys like LeBron James spends almost a million dollars on his body every year, well, then that $1 million gets him a $125-million contract, so in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much money.”
Watson has high hopes for 2017, and the Broncos have high hopes he can lead a resurgence on the offensive line. His health will be paramount to both. From the sounds of it, he’s on the right path.
Listen to the full interview with Watson, including his thoughts on rookie and first-round draft pick Garett Bolles, in the podcast below.
Catch Gil Whiteley and Mark Jackson every weekday from 11a-noon on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 or stream live any time for the best local coverage of Colorado sports from Denver’s biggest sports talk lineup.
Featured Image Credit: Ryan Greene, 5280 Sports Network