When he was a freshman, Cole Watson was a marcher not a runner.
“I was in band in 10th grade through my fall semester,” he explained. “Then I tried out for track. The funny thing was I didn’t even want to do track at first. After that first semester, after being on the track team, I really liked it and bonded with the team and did my best to do as good as I could.”
Eventually, Watson did well enough in fact that on Wednesday, he officially signed a letter of intent to continue his track and cross country career along with his education on scholarship at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
“Cole is not the usual story as far as kids that I’ve had sign for college,” said Bryant coach Steve Oury. “We have a pretty successful junior high track and cross country program. A lot of the kids that we’ve had, have come through and gone on to college, they started in seventh grade. So, by the time they got to ninth grade, by the time they got on this (high school) campus, I knew who they were. I was ready for them. Usually, they showed a lot of talent at an early age so I kind of knew what I was getting.
“Cole was not like that,” he continued. “He didn’t have the benefit of junior high running. I had him in Health class in ninth grade so I knew he was a good kid. He asked me about cross country and I told him sure. I told him when the tryouts were. I had no idea if he could run or not. But, he showed early on. I said I think he can do this.”
Watson, the son of Melissa Griffin and Greg Watson, said, “At first, I only ran two or three miles at a time but now I run 10, 11, 12. I can bike as much as 20 for a workout. I’ve gotten used to it.”
“I didn’t immediately think, oh, this kid is a college runner,” Oury related. “And the times backed that up. The times he ran in 10th grade, they were okay but nothing spectacular.
“But the thing that really stood out with Cole was that, at some point, he bought into it,” the coach added. He went from being a guy that just kind of shows up and works hard at practice every day but then when he goes home he forgets about it. And then when summer comes around he forgets about it. To me, there’s a difference between a kid that comes out for cross country and track and just does it during the season only, and someone who devotes themselves to it full time.
“He made that jump between his first year in 10th grade and 11th grade, and really bought into the idea of being the best that he could be,” he said. “And it paid off because the improvement he’s shown over the last two years has been remarkable, especially between his 11th and 12th grade year.”
Watson said his competitive spirit kicked in.
“My favorite thing about it was just the challenge that you have against other people,” he explained. “I used to be in soccer and it was kind of the same but you’re right there against somebody, especially when you’re coming across the finish line, edging against somebody. You just have that urge. You know you need to win.”
“He started being obsessed with it, I think, because he would always ask questions,” Oury related. “And I love that. I like to get those questions.
“So he started worrying about all the little things it takes to be really good,” he said. “When I started seeing that then I wasn’t surprised at all when his times started to come down. This year in cross country, he made a big jump. I really didn’t know who to expect to be in our top five in cross country and it was a real blessing that we had guys like Cole step up and fill that role.
“Then he’s continued it into track season,” the coach continued. “He’s been running the 1600 and 3200. He made a big jump in the 3200-meter run this year. He’s placed second in two different meets in which (teammate) John Carder placed first. But to see his time go down from — he had never broken 11 minutes before this year and now his personal record is down to 10:29. I think it’ll keep going lower. Anytime you get under 10:30, you’re showing that you can compete for colleges. I have no reason to believe he’s not going to keep improving. We’re going to see what he can do in the 1600 this Friday at Lake Hamilton.”
Watson said he considered going to UALR or UCA.
“UALR just because it’s really close to home and I can go there for almost free too,” he said. “UCA because, at the time, it had the major that I was thinking about. But I wouldn’t be able to run there. It was too competitive. It’s more expensive there and it’s a bigger school. It’s not what I was looking for.”
Watson said his girlfriend, Rachael Miller, who was set to sign with SAU in basketball on Thursday, suggested he look that way.
“I decided to take a visit and see how I liked it,” he recalled. “I knew it was a little bit smaller school, which is what I wanted. I didn’t want a huge school where I knew nobody. And I knew that I really wanted to run in college. That was one of the things that almost had to be there.
“I went to campus and I toured,” Watson added. “It was really raining that day so I didn’t get to finish the tour but I went and talked with the coach and told him about all my achievements, my drive for running and athletics, and the team bond that I feel with everything and how we all work together.
“He said he thought I’d be an excellent addition to the team and would boost motivation on the team. And that, even if it’s my first year, I might start off a little slow but after that I’ll catch up with everybody. So, I’m really ready. I’m excited.”
Asked about his academic plans, Watson said, “I was thinking about Health Sciences. I’m not 100 percent certain on exactly what. I just know it’s something in that field.”
“He’s a great kid,” Oury concluded. “They’re getting just a top-notch individual, a good student. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”