FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Craig Watts’ stomach tightened ever so slightly whenever a news report about a military strike near where one of his parents was deployed flashed on the television screen.
Those sudden moments when phone calls would just drop in the middle of long-distance conversations would cause some concern, too.READ MORE: Harrison School District Taking Action To Bring All Students Back Into Classrooms Full Time In Coming Weeks
“You’d never know what made it go dead,” the New York Jets offensive lineman recalled after a recent practice. “Was it just a failed signal? Was the system taken out? I worried a little bit, but not to the point where I was ever broken down about it. My parents were smart and they knew how to handle themselves and they did a great job of keeping me and my brother from worrying about all of that.”
Watts is the son of two retired military parents: Craig Sr. was in the Army for 27 years and three more in the Marines. His mom, Rosalyn Wilkerson, was an Army medic for 21 years.
“It’s kind of weird when you tell people your mom is an expert with an M16,” Watts said with a laugh.
Because Watts’ parents were both active duty, there was never a time when both was deployed at the same time. Watts’ father served in Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. His mother’s tours included a stint in Kosovo in 1999.
“She would’ve been in the Gulf, but she was pregnant with me,” the 25-year-old Watts said with a big grin. “You’re welcome, Mom.”
He’s immensely proud of his parents and his patriotism is on display around town on his days off in New Jersey when he rocks his red, white and blue American flag pants, like Rex Kwon Do from the movie, “Napoleon Dynamite.”
As a military kid, Watts learned how to constantly adapt to new people and places, from Colorado to Germany. That’s something he believes has come in handy throughout his journey to the NFL.
Watts played a lot of soccer as a youngster and didn’t start considering football seriously until late in high school. He picked it up quickly, though, and became a dominant force in college. He was selected as the Lone Star Conference’s offensive lineman of the year as a senior and worked out with former NFL center LeCharles Bentley’s O-Line Performance training center to further develop his skills.
The 6-foot-3, 325-pound guard was signed by San Diego as an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M in 2014 and spent most of his first two seasons on the Chargers’ practice squad.
After he was released last December, the Jets signed him to a reserve/futures deal and Watts is now competing for a backup job on New York’s offensive line.READ MORE: Blackface Costume Controversy Hits N.J. Town Of Lakewood
“I think I’ve been called on to fill some roles and do some things, and I think I’ve handled that pretty well,” he said. “I can only let my play do the talking, and obviously, time will tell. I think it’s definitely not a longshot, in my opinion.”
Especially since he has come so far — literally.
The list of places he and his brother Chris, who served five years as a sailor, have lived sounds like something out of “Where’s Watts?”
He was born in Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado; next up was a move to Dexheim, Germany; then Fort Riley in Kansas; back to Germany, this time in Bamberg; and then, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
Watts’ parents then split up and that only added to the travels. His father was stationed in Fort Lee in Virginia, while his mother was at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Craig Sr. soon was transferred to Kaiserslautern, Germany, and then, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Olympia, Washington.
The younger Watts finally settled in Canyon, Texas, for four years when he went to college.
“You resented it growing up because you’d make friends, you’d leave friends,” he said. “It was commonplace, but it did get upsetting because you’d be like, ‘Man, I like this room. I like these friends.’ And then, you’d have to do it again. You’d get to your new place and then you’d have to clean and unpack and you’re constantly on the go. Even though it was every three years, it still seemed pretty often.”
Most of Watts’ elementary school years were spent in Germany, and he picked up the language — although he’s no longer fluent in it. He’d invariably get into a fight at every new school, trying to earn the respect of his peers.
“Man, it was like prison style,” Watts joked. “You had to make friends and they’d try you, but you learned how to get along with people and how to adapt to any situation. It might sound weird, but to me, it was a positive: You don’t get homesick. You learn to make do with what you have.”
He appreciates where he is in his life right now, and it shows as he is often one of the last players off the practice field at camp signing autographs for young fans.
When Watts was in San Diego, he would go to a Denny’s restaurant for dinner and buy a meal for himself and he’d give another to a homeless person. It happened every night he didn’t cook, without fail — or fanfare.
“I feel like I’m very blessed and my road to get here has been very unorthodox, not the standard road to get to the league,” Watts said. “It was kind of like my giving-back thing. I believe in karma and your job is to leave the world better than you found it and to make your environment more robust and a beautiful place.
“So, I’ve learned through all of my experiences that you can really change somebody’s life by doing just the smallest thing.”MORE NEWS: Long Island Community Comes Together To Help Beloved Ceramics Shop Facing $87,000 Lawsuit From Landlord
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