Larry Scott has been in many living rooms for home visits with recruits, and he often finds more than just a player's parents and siblings taking part. Sometimes a grandparent or an aunt or uncle cares enough to want to meet with a young man's potential college coach.
When he and two fellow USF assistants drove to inner-city Miami last winter to see coveted defensive tackle Elkino Watson, they weren't sure what to expect. He had talent on the football field, to be sure, but what kind of family support did he have?
What they found was as impressive as Watson was at Booker T. Washington High: About 45 relatives filled his house, leaving no doubt how much his future meant to his family.
"There were people in the living room, in the kitchen, outside the house, standing in the road, standing across the street. It was quite an experience," Scott said. "And they're here every Saturday now in the stands, in droves. Having the support of his family really helped him be who he is."
LaTarsha Watson said that in all that family, her son is the first to go to college, so a slew of younger relatives is looking up to him, seeing an opportunity it can go after.
"He has a lot of cousins that look up to him," said his mother, noting that Watson will even have family members in Connecticut for Saturday's game against the Huskies (2-4, 0-1 Big East) in Hartford.
Watson, 6 feet 2 and 288 pounds, has made a huge impact at USF (4-1, 0-1) in his first five games, leading the Bulls with 6 1/2 tackles for loss despite not starting a game. He has the most tackles for loss of any true freshman in Division I-A, and coach Skip Holtz said Watson is just beginning to benefit from a college strength room and learning proper technique.
"Sometimes he's unorthodox. His feet are crossed, his shoulders are turned, everything you teach against," Holtz said. "And then he squirms through and finds the ball and makes a play. … (I'm) really impressed with his nose for the ball and the way he plays the game. We knew when we signed him he had a chance to come in and make an impact. I didn't realize it would be as strong as it is. He's outperforming even our highest expectations."
Just as USF liked the family atmosphere surrounding Watson, the player saw the same thing with the Bulls on his campus visit, something that has been reinforced in his first few months on the team.
"To me, family is the most important thing," said Watson, who has 26 total tackles, a high number for a defensive tackle. "Family's like everything."
Scott's relationship with Watson, cultivated through weekly phone calls that often had nothing to do with football or recruiting, helped the Bulls beat Florida and Miami to get Watson, one of the gems of Holtz's second recruiting class. If the coaches are surprised by how well he has played, they're not surprised at how well he has handled himself.
"This kid is rock solid," Scott said. "To have the self-discipline to do the things now he has as a true freshman, he's always had that. The kid has always had the ability to overcome circumstances and adversity. The influence of a lot of uncles, cousins, aunts, just a big family that spends a lot of time together. That was the draw for us."
Watson's mother said "Elkino" means "African king" — he is the only Elkino listed in the state of Florida's registered voter database — though he is affectionately known as "Bubba" to his family, from when his older sister couldn't pronounce "brother" correctly when she was growing up.
He is already a recognizable name for fans after five games, and assistant Kevin Patrick said he is making a case to become a starter. Scott said it's not uncommon for a true freshman to make an impact at a skill position, but to do what Watson has done as a defensive tackle is remarkable.
"To compete to play in the interior line of scrimmage, it's tough," Scott said. "You've got to be made of a little something special to be able to withstand the grind."