Washington State offensive lineman Josh Watson (65), a Cascade High School graduate, lines up for a play during the second half of a game against Oregon on Nov. 14, 2020, in Pullman. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Washington State offensive lineman Josh Watson (65), a Cascade High School graduate, lines up for a play during the second half of a game against Oregon on Nov. 14, 2020, in Pullman. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Even a COVID-19 diagnosis can’t rattle Cougars’ Watson

The Cascade graduate is staying positive during his senior season at WSU despite all the challenges.

Josh Watson has always been an upbeat guy.

The Cascade High School graduate and Washington State University offensive lineman is the one who’s always in the locker room cracking jokes, doing silly dances and keeping his teammates smiling.

So even though his senior season isn’t going as planned — whether it’s the coronavirus pandemic having him wondering whether the season would even be played, to having games canceled at the last moment due to outbreaks, to contracting COVID-19 himself — Watson is doing everything he can to emphasize the positive.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Watson said when reached in Pullman on Wednesday in advance of the Cougars’ scheduled game at USC on Sunday. “I would never have expected my senior season to end up like this, I thought I’d get the classic senior send off. I guess that won’t be the case this year. You just have to make do with it, roll with the punches, put a smile on your face and show up every day.”

Watson has been a stalwart member of the Cougars’ offensive line. He’s in his third season as WSU’s starting right guard, being named an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection as a junior and repeating the honor this preseason. He forms an all-Everett right side of WSU’s offensive line, with Archbishop Murphy High School grad Abraham Lucas lining up at right tackle.

So far he’s helped the Cougars surprise their opponents in what’s been an abbreviated season, even by Pac-12 standards. WSU, with a new head coach in Nick Rolovich and a new starting quarterback in true freshman Jayden de Laura, was picked to finish dead last in the North Division in the Pac-12 preseason poll. But the Cougars opened the season with a win at Oregon State, then gave conference favorite Oregon a run for its money.

“I did feel that people didn’t know what we were going to be, even though we were ranked at the bottom of the Pac-12,” Watson said. “That always happens to us. It’s just an underdog factor that we love here at WSU. It kind of felt good to have a clean slate, to be whatever we wanted to be. We felt a fire lit because everyone thought we’d be bad, we had a new quarterback and a new coach and a lot of new stuff. But I felt like we were going to take over the Pac-12 because people would keep underestimating us.”

For Watson the new season has brought new learning. Previous coach Mike Leach’s pass-heavy offense had the offensive line almost exclusively pass blocking. Rolovich takes a more balanced approach.

“It gives me a few more tools to work with so I don’t do the same thing over and over again,” Watson said. “I’m not knocking that, I mastered a craft in that system. But there are a lot more ways I can block, it’s not a single pass rep or run block. There’s a lot more stuff to work on and I have a lot more tools in my belt now.”

However, just as the season got rolling, the coronavirus hammer came down on WSU.

It had already been a tumultuous ride for Watson and the Cougars. Watson hasn’t been home since spring break as he elected to remain in Pullman, preparing for a season that may or may not happen. When the Pac-12 finally got the go-ahead, Watson tested positive for COVID-19 three weeks before the season began.

“I just had a little sniffles, it was nothing big,” Watson said about his experience with the virus.

The latest setback for WSU was an outbreak among players in the run-up to the Cougars’ scheduled game against Stanford on Nov. 21. That outbreak forced the cancellation of both the Stanford game and the Apple Cup contest against cross-state-rival Washington the following weekend.

“We prepared the whole week right up to the game,” Watson said about the Stanford cancellation, which came one day before the game was to be played. “When we found out it was canceled we were like, ‘OK, let’s prepare for the next game. OK, what’s the next thing on the schedule for us.’ It stung a little bit to not be able to play that game, but we were mainly focused on the next thing. You can’t focus on the negative things.”

Through it all Watson has tried to remain a positive influence with the Cougars.

“Usually I come to practice or the locker room with an upbeat personality,” Watson said. “I’ll make jokes, talk to the guys around my locker, I’m always chatting and joking around. I want to make sure to keep a fun kind of vibe around the facility just so that we’re not thinking about the coronavirus and how much it’s taken from the season. I try to apply that to whatever I’m doing.”

The Cougars are hoping to be back in action this weekend. Both WSU and USC had to cancel games last week because of coronavirus outbreaks among their teams, but they pushed the game back two days to give the teams extra time to get out of quarantine. As of Thursday the game was still on.

“I’d bet on the game being played,” Watson said. “We’re prepping for it, that’s all I know.”

It’s just another example of Watson accentuating the positive.

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