GREEN BAY – Noah Pauley’s bags had barely hit the floor as the 2022 NFL Draft was about to get underway last month.
Returning home from a recruiting trip in Texas, the North Dakota State receivers coach made it a point to be in front of his television to see where his pupil, Christian Watson, would get selected.
The 17-time national champion Bison has enjoyed unrivaled success since joining the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision in 2004, developing a pair of top five quarterbacks (Trey Lance and Carson Wentz) in the last six years alone.
Now, it was Watson’s time.
While the prototypical size, speed and explosive plays made the 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver an enticing pick, Watson’s affable personality is what endeared him to the Bison’s locker room, fan base and even Pauley’s own daughters, Ada and Lena.
“He means so much to myself, my wife, my two little girls,” Pauley said. “They’re his biggest fans.”
Watson was an easy guy for anyone to root for in Fargo. He was an under-recruited prospect who turned into a big-play machine, averaging 20.4 yards per catch during his college career.
But to the Pauley family, Watson’s impact goes beyond what he did on the field. It’s how he treats people and leads by example. There’s no shift in his personality. Watson handles adversity and adulation with the same smile and even-keeled response.
Pauley arrived at NDSU during Watson’s redshirt sophomore year. In their three seasons together, the young playmaker redefined what it meant to play receiver in the FCS. He lined up everywhere. He caught nearly everything. He returned kickoffs, and was a willing and physical blocker.
That work ethic, coupled with impressive showings at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, made it a certainty Watson would become the first Bison receiver to be drafted in 37 years.
The only question was when and where?
Pauley had his own rooting interest. Despite being a native of Duluth, Minn., Pauley actually grew up a Packers fan after watching games at his friend’s house as a kid.
Keenly aware of Green Bay’s need of receiving help after Davante Adams’ trade to Las Vegas, Pauley kept his fingers crossed Watson might get a chance with the Packers.
On Day 2, after Green Bay traded up to No. 34, Watson did.
“When we heard his name, I threw my daughter in the air,” said Pauley with a laugh. “We were all celebrating.”
Watson’s path from Tampa, Fla., To Green Bay is one of perseverance and loyalty. A hidden gem North Dakota State feared big-time FBS schools would discover in the 11th hour, Watson never looked back once he gave his word to the Bison.
In a day and age when so many are focused on what’s next, Watson stayed true to himself, his family and his team. It propelled him from Plant High School in Tampa to the National Football League.
“I tell myself all the time all I need is one opportunity,” Watson said during rookie minicamp earlier this month. “I had one opportunity going to college and have I have this opportunity now. All I needed was the opportunity.”