NORMAN — Former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts led the Sooners to two Orange Bowl titles in the early 1980s and is a proud OU alum.
But this Saturday, when the Sooners host Tulsa on Owen Field, Watts will be in the stands wearing blue and gold. His son, Trey, is a senior running back for the Golden Hurricane.
Watts, who represented Oklahoma as a Republican congressman for four terms, spoke with The Oklahoman about his son's college football career and throwing his old allegiances out the window for family.
Q: Will it be strange to cheer against the Sooners inside that stadium?
A: I've got some experience with it now. Tulsa played OU during Trey's freshman year when he was redshirted, but he got to suit out. The whole weekend was a little bit strange, and then a couple of years ago, Tulsa played OU again, and obviously it was still a little strange, but I had a game under my belt where I was on a different side than my alma mater.
It would take pretty special circumstances for me to root against the University of Oklahoma. There's only one circumstance that I can think of, and that's my son or daughter is playing for the other team.
Trey walked on at Tulsa before going on to a great career there. How proud have you been of his success?
Obviously, it's a tall order to walk on in any program, and not just make the team, but really be an integral part of the team. That's quite an accomplishment. In my five years at Oklahoma, I experienced it with one player. Jim Culbreath. Jim was a walk-on fullback that made the team, and not only that, but Barry Switzer would tell you that Jim Culbreath was pretty relevant to the success of our team.
When Trey decided he wanted to walk on, did you tell him how tough it would be?
I didn't tell him about the odds, but I did say to him, “Trey, you've got pretty good football IQ. Coaches want players who are smart. Go in, ask questions. When you get an opportunity to play, know what to do. Know your assignments. Know the blitz pickup. Know the routes. Know what holes to hit.”
It seems like all of those kinds of players who beat the odds have that in common.
Steve Largent is one that comes to mind. Steve Largent — by his profile on paper — just wasn't the type of guy who you would've thought would make it. He probably wasn't the fastest guy. He probably wasn't the most talented guy. But, by golly he just seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He'd get open at the right time. Not miss the ball when it was thrown to him. Not miss the blocks when that was his responsibility.
What was your reaction to Trey's punt-return touchdown in last year's Conference USA title game? (Watts returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown after the ball hit an opposing player. If the kicking team touches a punt, play continues but the receiving team has the option to take the ball where it was touched)
(Laughs). Being honest, I was thinking, “Trey, no, no, no!” Then, “Oh, yeah, great play! Touchdown!” He'd actually done that same thing in high school. He knew the rules and scored a touchdown in high school because it hit a guy's leg. … That was indicative of what I was talking about: Understanding the rules, understanding your assignments and understand what you're supposed to do. Sometimes it gives you an upper hand, and in that case, it did.