Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2024

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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22 JANUARY 2024 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2023 BGI AWARDS Xavier Watts' long journey pays off with the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Blue & Gold Illustrated MVP honors BY JACK SOBLE AND TYLER HORKA X avier Watts stepped up to the lectern on the night of Dec. 4 after hearing his name called as the 2023 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner. As he usually is, Watts was upbeat and happy while thanking his parents, his coaches, his teammates and Notre Dame fans. "Please bear with me, I'm a little nervous" the senior safety prefaced his speech. "I've never spoken in front of this many people before." Neither the trophy in front of him, signifying the nation's best defensive player, nor the crowd of people admiring his accomplishment were at the front of Watts' mind. It was the journey he had gone through to get to that moment that had Watts emotional, even though he didn't really show it. Watts was recruited to Notre Dame as a wide receiver. When the Irish first experimented with moving him to defense, they tried him out at rover. After stops at nickel and even back at wideout, the Omaha, Neb., native settled on safety and became a star this season. "To get to that point where I'll be able to be recognized as the best defender in the nation, that is just unreal," Watts said. "Just how difficult it was, playing safety and then my steps at safety, kind of being the backup and not playing so much, and then becoming the guy. … To have that trophy in my hand and have my name called is just amazing." Having his parents, Jeff and Fallon, present at the awards ceremony hosted by the Touchdown Club of Charlotte (N.C.), to share the moment with him made it even more special and emotional. Being an only child, they were the only immediate family he had growing up, and vice versa. "It means the world to them, because they've been with me through the whole journey," Watts said. "I just feel like it's a tribute to them for being strong parents, being able to provide me with the right advice that I need to be able to stick to this course." Watts was a force on the back end of Notre Dame's de- fense, even when he wasn't creating turnovers. He finished

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