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How Jaylen Watson Went From The Wendy’s Drive-Thru to Super Bowl Champion

The 243rd overall pick went from slingin’ burgers to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

An illustration of Jaylen Watson, who went from working at Wendy's to becoming an NFL starter and Super Bowl Champion
Credit-NFL/Kansas City Chiefs/AP/Joker Mag

“If you went back and told me this story, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

From working the drive-thru at his hometown Wendy’s to becoming an impact player in the Super Bowl, cornerback Jaylen Watson has traveled a long road to the NFL.

The Augusta, Georgia native was a quiet kid growing up, but his passion for football was always evident.

“I grew up in a rough environment,” Watson said. “But it made me into who I am today.”

After Jaylen started playing when he was 5 years old, he knew his goal in life was to play the sport he loved for as long as he could.

From the time he first stepped on the field, Watson knew that defense was where he belonged.

In high school, the 6-foot-2 lanky-framed kid helped lock down receivers and shut down opposing offenses.

But the offers from DI programs were not trickling in like he hoped they would.

A quote from Jaylen Watson: I was never given anything. I've had to work for everything. I think that gives me an edge on the football field.

With his highlight tape getting little exposure, Watson had to find another way.

He decided to send his film to Ventura College – a JUCO in California – because it was the only one he knew that had accepted a player from Augusta.

Despite the school being 2,385 miles from home, Jaylen committed to the only team to offer him a chance to play college football.

In his first game at Ventura, Watson picked off the opposition three times, returned two for a score, and from there, became one of the hottest targets in all of JUCO.

During his time at Ventura, Jaylen won several major awards:

  • 1st Team Western State Conference
  • 1st Team All-State
  • 1st Team All-American (2x)

Soon, Watson accumulated more than 40 offers from programs across the country. But there was one place he wanted to go more than any.

USC.

Watson committed to the Trojans after his first and only visit. But there were issues that he still needed to iron out.

Unfortunately, Jaylen fell behind with his grades in his freshman year.

But after trying to play catchup as a sophomore, his workload became too much to handle.

He failed a class at Ventura.

And failing a class meant he would not be eligible to transfer to any Division I program in the entire country – let alone a prestigious program like USC.

Taking summer classes was the next step, but after his dream of playing for the Trojans was crushed, his focus and his GPA started to drop.

Ultimately, Jaylen decided to go back home.

While working to build up his grades, he needed cash to pay the bills. So he found a job.

The only place that would hire him was a Wendy’s store that his mother managed.

His experience was not fun, to say the least, but at a time when he needed them most, his family was there for him.

“So I started making $7.25 an hour there, which was horrible,” he recalled.

“But I also think working at Wendy’s showed me how much I didn’t want to live that lifestyle.”

It was around this time when a switch flipped in him.

“I feel like that job made me a man.”

Jaylen found his spark of passion again and realized that to get out of the situation he was in, he was going to have to grind it out.

Jaylen Watson on working at Wendy's in 2019: "I feel like that job made me a man."

“My mom, she always believed in me, always kept pushing me,” he said.

“Just watching her sacrifice so much…it really pushed me. It gave me that extra push to be something.”

That’s when he went back to school in his hometown, got his grades up (six A’s), and became eligible to once again join a DI program.

Jaylen was ready for his next opportunity, and Washington State came calling.

In his two seasons with the Cougars, Watson proved to those who had forgotten about him that he was not someone to be messed with. In 15 games, Watson totaled 44 tackles, 2 INTs, and was a team captain for his final season.

Despite his resurgence, Jaylen was not projected to go in the 2022 NFL Draft.

In a class where Sauce Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr. dominated the cornerback discussion, Watson was an afterthought for many teams around the league.

However, with the 243rd pick, the Kansas City Chiefs decided to select the All-Conference corner from Augusta.

It was a dream come true, and for Watson, it was validation for all the work he put in from such a young age.

“I was never given anything,” Watson told Chiefs.com.

“I’ve had to work for everything. I think that gives me an edge on the football field.”

But the story didn’t end there.

In his second game in the NFL, in front of America on Thursday Night Football, Watson had his “Welcome to the NFL” moment.

He intercepted Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown to help propel his team to victory in Week 2 of the season.

It only got better from there.

After cornerback Trent McDuffie – Kansas City’s first-round pick and the cornerback chosen over Watson in the draft – went down, Jaylen embraced the “next man up” mentality.

He started in 8 games, including the playoffs, and was a big piece of the Chiefs’ secondary during their Super Bowl run.

After everything that had happened, from his lowest point working at Wendy’s, to his time in JUCO and at Washington State, Jaylen Watson made it to the Super Bowl in his first year in the NFL.

In storybook fashion, the man who was doubted, the man who was initially unable to fulfill his dream, slammed the book closed on the 2022 NFL season surrounded by his family, a whole bunch of confetti, and the Lombardi Trophy.

“If you went back and told me this story, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Watson said.

“It’s a dream come true.”

Zach Garrett writes Snagged Sports, a newsletter bringing you daily news snagged from across the landscape of American Football – from college to the NFL.

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Written By

Zach Garrett is a collegiate and professional football enthusiast and writer out of Dallas, TX. He is the creator and founder of Snagged Sports, America's best daily football newsletter that snags news from across the world of American football.

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