Farmington Hills — Keel Watson has gone from an unknown senior quarterback at Detroit Delta Prep to a player whom all eyes will be on Friday night as he attempts to help put Farmington Hills Harrison into the state playoffs in its final home game.
Farmington Hills Harrison (5-3), which has earned a record 13 state championships, will be closing its doors for good following the 2018-19 school year and could be playing its final game Friday unless it defeats crosstown Farmington (6-2) to punch its postseason ticket with a sixth victory.
Watson knows all too well about seeing his school close since Delta Prep did just that last month, opening the way for Watson to be immediately eligible at Harrison.
Harrison is 0-2 — losses to Rochester Adams and Birmingham Groves — with Watson as starting quarterback, but legendary head coach John Herrington feels confident he will get the job done.
Watson is now playing against the big boys in the OAA and he is getting more comfortable running the offense.
“I feel like I’ve adapted, it took a little bit of time and adversity, but we will be fine,” Watson said before practice Monday. “This is completely different than Delta Prep. It’s more of a football environment, more resources like recording practices and being able to look at film right after practice.
“We were in a spread Air-Raid at Delta Prep. It was simple over there. There’s more verbiage here, more strategy to what’s going on instead of just playing backyard football. I’m getting more comfortable with it.”
How has Watson been able to handle the pressure of playing for Harrison the last few weeks after going under the radar for years at Delta Prep?
“It’s a big transition because you have a lot of people in your face now, and cameras, you just have to learn to deal with it,” Watson said. “It’s flying by so I’m really not recognizing it and I’m trying not to recognize it because we have to play football.
“It’s kind of exciting to play in this type of game, but it’s also kind of terrifying at the same time because we put ourselves in this position. We could have beaten Adams or Groves and already been in the playoffs, but we didn’t.”
Watson displayed a strong arm in rallying Harrison from a 17-0 halftime deficit to pull even before Adams won 24-17 with a late 80-yard drive in Week 7.
Groves defeated Harrison for the fourth straight year last Friday, 25-6.
Herrington put Watson in at quarterback for the Adams game when starter Max Martin was sidelined with a leg injury. Martin returned to the lineup last week, but at tight end to give Harrison another weapon to go along with 1,000-yard rusher Rod Heard (Northwestern), Colorado State-bound receiver/cornerback Xavier Goldsmith and athlete Ben Williams.
“We didn’t establish any type of a run against Groves and it hurt us,” said Herrington, who owns the state record for most wins (440) and most state championships (13). “He (Watson) threw the ball well in the second half, but the receivers didn’t give him much help. We ran some routes incorrectly and dropped some balls. He’s coming around and he’ll be fine this week.”
Martin is expected to play tight end and in the secondary against Farmington.
Heard has confidence in Watson.
“This is a big one, a must-win, last home game, Senior Night and a city rivalry so it’s going to be fun,” Heard said. “I think we can turn things around so it should be a good game.
“I feel he (Watson) has done a good job of learning the offense. We’re still working on the chemistry and he’s getting there. I think he can help us a lot with the passing game and adding another dynamic. We’re focusing on establishing the running game early this week, then letting Keel throw the ball a little more. It’s win or go home and we’re ready to perform and play well.”
Watson likes having a home run threat in Heard behind him.
“Just having Rod as a teammate and leader is easy to have," Watson said. "It’s very easy because when you look at the defense, when they start coming up and coming up, and as a quarterback your eyes light up because that means it’s go time to throw the ball.”