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UI spring football: Deon Watson gives Vandals options at receiver, tight end

Defenders will have a difficult assignment with Idaho receiver/tight end Deon Watson (83). (Dean Hare / Associated Press)
Defenders will have a difficult assignment with Idaho receiver/tight end Deon Watson (83). (Dean Hare / Associated Press)
Sean Kramer Correspondent

MOSCOW, Idaho – Veteran experience can also bring the wisdom of perspective. Just ask Idaho senior wide receiver Deon Watson.

Or is he a tight end?

That’ll be for opposing defenses to attempt to decipher this season.

The Coeur d’Alene native led all receiving categories in Saturday’s scrimmage, the second of Idaho’s spring practice schedule, interchanging between receiver and tight end to rack up 216 yards and four touchdowns on nine catches.

This followed a 10-catch, 199-yard. four-touchdown effort the previous Saturday in Lewiston.

It was right about then when perspective kicked in for one of the longest-tenured members of the program: This could all end at any moment.

“It’s something I just took upon myself last week,” Watson said. “I’m going to be the hardest-working guy out there. It’s my last year. I just want to set the tone for the younger guys that we’re here to work.”

No player can be sure when his career could end. Watson figures he may as well start to enjoy the time he has left with the game, especially considering the program seems primed for a breakthrough season in 2016.

“Just how special the game is and how easily it can be taken away from you, in an instance like Jace’s (Malek), it really dawns on you,” Watson said of the former West Valley High player and Idaho recruit who died Feb. 28 of cancer. “Stuff like this is stuff you need to enjoy. You don’t need to look at it like a daily grind. You got to come out to work every day.”

Watson made the transition from receiver to tight end last season, bulking up by 15 pounds to take on the physical nature of the position. He’ll be able to flow between his new position and his old one to create mismatches and maximize depth with Buck Cowan and Joe Wysocki also at tight end.

“I think it makes it tough on them (opposing defenses),” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “… ‘What is he? What is he playing?’ It doesn’t show up as much out there, but what he’s really improved on is his blocking, so then he can play tight end and we can run the ball. We’ve had some of our best runs this spring with him at tight end, so that’s really helped.”

During Saturday’s scrimmage, edge blocking helped set up leading rusher Aaron Duckworth for a 65-yard touchdown run down the left side on a stretch play, brushing off a sideline pop from safety Jordan Grabski and sprinting the rest of the way for a late scrimmage touchdown. The junior finished with 122 rushing yards.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Luton threw for 431 yards and six touchdowns, standing in the pocket to deliver bullet after bullet over the middle of the field. All four of Watson’s touchdowns came from the 6-foot-6 slinger.

“There’s still a few things he can continue to improve on,” Petrino said of Luton. “There were a couple plays where he has to know exactly where he’s going, but getting all these reps he’s made huge, big, big, big strides, so he’s got to continue to improve on that every day.”

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