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December 19, 2011Saddleback (Mission Viejo, Calif.) Community College offensive tackle Menelik Watson was one of four offensive line prospects in Auburn on an official visit over the weekend, but the only one of the group to leave the Plains with a clear leader.
"The feeling I got at Auburn was great," said the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Watson. "They are No. 1. It was a fantastic feeling, similar to what I had at Saddleback.
"The family vibe you get at Auburn, and not just from the team and the people involved in football, but from everybody. Everybody is like a family, and that is great. That was probably the biggest thing for me."
Watson arrived in Auburn on Friday and stayed until Sunday. He toured the campus, met the players, talked with the coaches and academic staff, watched the Tigers' bowl practice and attended Auburn's basketball game.
"It was nice. It was great," said Watson. "It was something I needed to do. For me, there is a lot of interest in Auburn. It is great football and great competition. I had a great time."
Watson met at length with Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. Grimes is recruiting Watson to Auburn, and the two have developed a good relationship. Watson said Grimes is a big reason the Tigers are currently at the top of his list.
"There is a chance to play early at Auburn, but also a chance to be taught, not just coached, but taught," said Watson. "And not only about football, but how to be a man. I'm 22, but I'm still learning.
"Coach Grimes is a great coach and a great man. I want to get to the next level (NFL) and Coach Grimes is a man that is known for that."
Watson recently finished his first season at Saddleback, which was his first season of football. Watson previously played basketball at Marist College for two years. He signed with Marist after being a top high school basketball prospect in Manchester, England, and had never considered playing football until last summer.
"When I chose Marist (out of high school in England) I didn't really take any visits," said Watson. "I picked off of instinct and when I got there, it was a great place, but unfortunately it wasn't a great situation for me and I felt like I needed a change.
"I was going to go back to Europe, but a lot of people were telling me to try football, that I would be great at it. I gave it a thought and called my coach in Europe and asked him what he thought about me playing football."
Watson's coach wasn't surprised by the call.
"He said that he had wondered how long it would be before I called to ask him," said Watson. "He said he was waiting for it. He knew it was going to happen."
Instead of flying east to Europe, Watson flew west to California.
"I was living in San Diego lifting furniture and cleaning carpets just to keep my stay out there," said Watson. "I decided to give football a shot. I didn't have anything to lose so I went to a workout and ran the 40-yard dash. I didn't even know how to get in a stance or anything and I was in regular tennis shoes.
"I ran a 4.72 and I was 308 pounds. My coach said football might be something I need to look into more. That encouraged me a lot."
It must have. A year later and Watson has offers from Auburn, Florida State and Washington, among others. Watson took an official visit to Washington last week and is scheduled to visit Florida State Jan. 13-15.
"It's an exciting time for me. I'm excited about the next level," said Watson. "The visit to Washington was good. It's nice up there. They have a great program and are building for the future.
"I will visit Florida State and I believe I am taking another visit on Jan. 20, but I'm not sure where, yet."
Watson said he left the visit to Auburn with several positives about the Tigers.
"It was a great experience," he said. "Being in the South, there's nothing like it. I have adopted family in Atlanta, Ga. and last summer I went to Birmingham, Ala. It was great. I love the South. I love the weather. It's a lot different than England. You don't get [sunny and 65 degrees] in December."
Watson doesn't plan on making a decision before taking his remaining visits, but he'll head back home to England for Christmas with Auburn atop his wish list.
"I promised my coach I wouldn't make a decision on any visit, but he knows how strongly I feel about Auburn and how strongly I feel about getting to the next level," said Watson. "I feel like the situation at Auburn couldn't be better."