Chris Watt is the type of football player who wants to know what he’s doing wrong.
Harry Hiestand is the type of football coach who is happy to accommodate Watt’s wishes.
“I like to be coached hard,” said Watt, who enters his senior season (with an extra year of eligibility) after having started all 13 games in 2011. “If I’m not doing something right, I don’t mind getting yelled it. (Hiestand) knows that and he’s starting to get to know everyone’s strengths.”
Hiestand is happy to help Watt maximize his skills.
“I think it’s important that (Watt) gets constant coaching and understands what it is I’m asking him to do,” said the well-respected Hiestand, via the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Vols.
“He doesn’t need somebody to scream at him to play hard; he needs someone to instruct him and give him coaching points. I try to do that every day with all our players.”
Watt emerged as the starting left guard in 2011, winning a battle over fifth-year senior Andrew Nuss for the job. Many times, when the Irish needed short yardage, whether it was quarterback Tommy Rees or one of the running backs, the Irish chose to run behind the power of Watt.
“We have a tough, hard-nosed guy that loves football,” said Hiestand when speaking of Watt. “He’s a tremendously determined young man and he’s a very physical player. He enjoys getting after people’s butts, and he embraces that part of the game. That’s a nice quality.”
Indeed, Watt has always been considered one of the Notre Dame offensive linemen who has a little bit of nasty to him and a whole lot of determination to play a physical brand of football.
The learning curve for Watt was finding the patience to recognize that not every snap of the football is going to result in a kill. It’s a teaching point he’s tried to share with the younger offensive linemen like Conor Hanratty, Christian Lombard, Tate Nichols, Nick Martin, Jordan Prestwood and Matt Hegarty.
“Last year, if I would mess up on a play, I would hang my head a little bit, especially when you’re in a competition,” Watt said. “But you’ve got to move forward and get after it on the next snap.”
Hiestand is his greatest ally as Watt embarks upon the last two years of his collegiate careers.
“He’s all about technique, really positive when we’re out there, really intense, so it really wants to make you work that technique and do it as well as you can,” Watt said. “It’s nice to have a coach who’s going to coach you the way you want to be coached, and he’s done a pretty good job so far.”
Watt has done a pretty good job himself. Moving into the starting lineup as a junior in ’11, he helped pave the way to a significant Irish improvement in the running game. That’s a strength of Watt’s. Now, he’s trying to hone the nuances of his pass blocking.
“I’d like to get better with my hands in the pass rush,” Watt said. “I’d get my hands knocked down last year, so getting my hands up quicker and responding quicker is an area where I’d like to improve.”
Hiestand is locked into Watt’s needs. Most of them are fine-tuning aspects of his game after three months without contact.
“Just like everybody, playing lower, hitting your targets, all the things that you don’t do in the off-season program because you’re lifting and doing agility drills,” said Hiestand of Watt’s points of emphasis.
“Now we’re doing football things, learning to aim your pads, getting everything in line with your targets and getting everything lined up in the pass protections. He has what is most important, which is an aggressive attitude about getting after people. He is a very prideful football player.”
Most offensive linemen take great pride in their team’s ability to run the football, which was an area in which the Irish made great strides from 2010 to 2011.
“It’s always important to be able to run the ball,” Watt said. “If we can run the ball, we can control the game. We made great improvement last year, and hopefully we can keep improving.”
Watt and the rest of the offensive line are confident that will happen now that Hiestand has arrived.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a little different, and it’s a change from before,” said Watt of Hiestand’s arrival following the departure of Ed Warinner to Ohio State. “But we’re enjoying it. There are some things he’s said that are different, but we’re loving it. There is a little terminology on the offensive line. Some of the little things, but nothing too different.”
Even a little levity mixed in.
“He can say some funny things sometimes, too,” laughed Watt. “It’s great.”