GREEN BAY — Noah Pauley’s sacks had barely touched the ground as the 2022 NFL Draft was about to begin last month.
Returning from a recruiting trip to Texas, the North Dakota State wide receivers coach made a point of being in front of his television to see where his student, Christian Watson, would be selected.
17-time national champion Bison has enjoyed unparalleled success since joining the NCAA’s 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 attractive pick, Watson’s affable personality is what drew him to the Bison locker room, the fan base and even Pauley’s own daughters, Ada and Lena.
“He means so much to me, my wife, my two little girls,” Pauley said. “They are his biggest fans.”
Watson was an easy guy to support for anyone 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 for the Pauley family, Watson’s impact goes beyond what he has done on the court. This is how he treats people and sets an example. There is no change in his personality. Watson handles adversity and adulation with the same smile and balanced response.
Pauley came to NDSU during Watson’s second redshirt 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 almost everything. He returned kickoffs and was a willing, physical blocker.
That work ethic, coupled with impressive performances in the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, made him a certainty that 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. Although he hails from Duluth, Minnesota, Pauley grew up a Packers fan after watching games at his friend’s house as a kid.
Very aware of Green Bay’s need for help after the Davante Adams trade to Las Vegas, Pauley has his fingers crossed. Watson could have a chance with the Packers.
On Day 2, after Green Bay moved up to 34th, Watson did.
“When we heard her name, I threw my daughter up,” Pauley said with a laugh. “We were all celebrating.”
Watson’s journey from Tampa, Florida to Green Bay has been one of perseverance and loyalty. A hidden gem the state of North Dakota feared big FBS schools would discover at the 11th hour, Watson never looked back once he gave the Bison his word.
At a time when so many are focused on the future, Watson has remained true to himself, his family and his team. This propelled him from Plant High School in Tampa to the National Football League.
“I tell myself all the time, all I need is an opportunity,” Watson said during rookie minicamp earlier this month. “I had an opportunity to go to college and…I have that opportunity now. All I needed was the opportunity.”