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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame S Xavier Watts Growing, Learning & Flashing

April 1, 2022
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It's been a year of adjustment for Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts. 

The former four-star prospect was moved from receiver to rover in September last fall and then to safety a few months later. 

Watts' process was expedited as All-American Kyle Hamilton went down with an injury at the end of October and it led to flashes from the Nebraska native in November. 

Fast forward to the spring and Watts has found time finally breathe while also learning a new defense under Al Golden. 

"It's getting a little more comfortable," explained Watts. "I'm still learning the coverages. I'm still trying to get my techniques down. I'm still early as a safety, but I'm still getting it down. 

"It's getting a lot better. Just taking it day by day and trying to get better."

Safeties coach Chris O'Leary agreed Watts was still learning, but he also added that his safety was on an upward trajectory halfway through the spring. 

"He's at a good point," stated O'Leary. "The way I see it is he's still growing as a defensive player, not just a safety. He's still got to get the whole defense - the understanding of the scheme and where he fits. That's where he's at, but what I have liked is that competitive excellence.

"When we go live, you're going to see him making tackles. At the end of the day, if he keeps that same mindset, he'll get to where he wants to get to and where we want him to get to in due time."

The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder wasn't totally behind the learning curve as he was a dynamic playmaker at safety in high school, but there is still a learning curve. 

"Probably the type of techniques I need," Watts said of the most significant challenge from playing safety in high school to college. "Footwork for covering man and stuff like that. 

"There's a lot of good receivers here. It's different from when I covered guys in high school. They're a lot more athletic and fast. There's actually a lot more crisper routes, so probably just learning my coverages and different techniques."

O'Leary has also seen significant growth in the areas Watts is focusing on improving. 

"His movement skills, you go from receiver to safety, it's challenging to get to the post, flip my hips," O'Leary explained. "I've seen an improvement just being able to cross over, run play and drive, pedal, play and drive. His movement skills, spent a lot of time on them, that's probably been the best." 

The safety room is competitive as game reps are on the table, but it's also a healthy room. 

Watts has felt the elders of the room step up during the offseason as they look to replace the leadership of Kyle Hamilton. 

"I would say Houston," Watts stated of who is leading the safety room. "The older guys like Houston, DJ (Brown), and even Brandon (Joseph) came in and has done a lot of good stuff for us. He's pretty vocal too. He's a veteran as well. At Northwestern, he played a lot. He's brought a good dynamic to us as being vocal as well."

And while a competitive battle, Watts gave credit to Joseph for coming in and going to work to earn the respect of his teammates. 

"He's been doing really good," said Watts. "Even when we were doing winter workouts, he worked pretty hard. I could just already tell that he's a really good worker. When we got on the field, I could tell he's really good with the ball. He's a ball hawk. He's a really good player."

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