From Facemasks to Medical Masks: Former Alabama Wide Receivers Continue to Chase Their Dreams
“My first symptom was fatigue and then a headache,” Jeremy Watson said. “From there I started to lose my feel of smell and taste and a couple of days after losing my sense of smell I started to feel very very weak and also started to feel this pins and needles-type sensation in my skin. From there I started to have worse headaches and my fever kicked in."
After being tested, Watson discovered his concerns had been realized: he had contracted COVID-19.
The story of Jared and Jeremy Watson might not be the most well-known tale among Alabama football fans, but that does not make it an uninteresting one.
Raised in the Tuscaloosa area, Northport to be specific, the twins were understandably inseparable from birth. They did nearly everything together, and both had aspirations to do what many young boys in the state of Alabama wish to do when they grow up.
“Growing up in the Tuscaloosa area I feel like it’s every little boy’s dream to play for Alabama,” Jeremy said. “That was just something that I always wanted to do.”
Football wasn’t the only dream, though. At a very young age, both came to the realization of what career they wanted after their football-playing days were over.
“We both wanted to be doctors since we were about five years old,” Jared said. “We actually remember sitting on the floor drawing little comic books one day and we told our mom and dad that we would be football-playing doctors in space.”
So far, so good.
After playing as wide receivers for Tuscaloosa County High School, they graduated and headed to the University of Alabama on academic scholarships in the fall of 2010 to begin the process of becoming doctors.
After their freshman year and establishing themselves as pre-med students, the time was finally right to pursue their other passion.
“We were pretty undersized and underdeveloped coming out of high school,” Jared said. “There were no offers or anything like that. We came to Alabama on academic scholarships and thought ‘wouldn’t it be crazy just to give it a try’ and ‘what if?’”
The brothers, both just over 6-foot tall (Jeremy is taller at 6-1) attended team tryouts before their sophomore year but were among the final cuts. Despite disappointment, the brothers didn't give up.
After seeing the team win the national title in New Orleans against LSU, the Watsons renewed their focus on making the team for their junior year.
“The way the whole process was of earning a spot on the team — really just from that starting point it played a huge role,” Jared said. “Putting in the work and it not working out the first time and not giving up and coming back and doing it again and it working out the second time around is something — fighting through the adversity of disappointment.”
After all of their hard work and after another grueling summer of tryouts, both brothers had their efforts rewarded. After being issued the final team roster, both Jared and Jeremy’s names were on the list.
“I didn’t join the team expecting to be an All-American or anything like that,” Jared said. “Honestly I feel like making the team — just coming from being so under-polished coming out of high school — and seeing that hard work pay off and making the roster it was nice being a part of something that was bigger than me. That’s one of the major things that I took away from it.
“Some of the friendships and the lessons I learned, that was really the more significant thing to me.”
The duo both played as walk-on wide receivers for their junior and senior years, including earning national championship rings for the Crimson Tide in Miami against Notre Dame in 2013.
After graduating from Alabama, Jared and Jeremy traded in their football facemasks for medical masks and began to attend medical school. Jared was accepted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine while Jeremy left his home state to attend Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
“Medical school is tough,” Jared said. “It’s challenging. A lot of hours that you have to put into it and you know and every day your best effort is demanded and that was something that coach [Nick] Saban wanted from each and every player whether they were the Heisman finalist or a walk-on like us he demanded the same. He had the same expectations for everybody. Learning to take that kind of accountability for yourself and put your best self forward every day was something that really stuck with me and something that I really needed to take my next step forward through medical training.”
Jeremy echoes Jared’s statement.
“The attention to detail in regards to your preparation for a game,” Jeremy said. “All week we would pay excruciating detail to all the little things and when you apply that to medicine and medical school it’s always important to drill home all those small, minute details. That’s really helped me a lot. Also just the idea of mental toughness. That’s something coach Saban likes to say: being mentally tough.”
Which brings us back to the present day. Both brothers are in their final year of medical school and preparing for residency. However, back in March, Jeremy’s contraction of the novel coronavirus provided a new focus on their work.
After going through the initial symptoms, Jeremy said that he slowly began to feel better. First his headaches and fever went away, then after about 10 days his taste and smell returned. After self-quarantining for the two-week period, Jeremy was able to return to school.
While his symptoms were mild, Jeremy said that the virus is something that everyone should be taking seriously, and those who don’t consider it a threat should highly reconsider.
“I think that’s a very irresponsible way to look at the virus,” Jeremy said. “You don’t know how it’s going to affect your body or someone else’s body. There are lots of people walking around that are affected that are asymptomatic and they’ll pass it to someone in the grocery store and you don’t know what that person is dealing with their health. That could send them to the ICU. It’s very important that we’re all responsible and think of each other rather than thinking of ourselves when it comes to this virus.
“A lot of people like to mention ‘oh it’s just a one-percent death rate’ but when you look at the numbers and really figure out what one percent of that really large number is, that’s a lot of people that are passing away from this virus and a lot of those deaths could have been prevented by just adhering to the guidelines from the CDC and just thinking of your neighbor.”
Jared said that when he first found out that his brother had tested positive, he was initially worried because his brother lived so far away.
“I was more a little shocked,” Jared recalled. “I was just concerned that he was ok and you know being kind of separated it made me worried. Knowing that he had to isolate, all those kind of things it just made me concerned that he would be ok by himself. He kept us updated. He called home, called my mom and dad, called me often. We checked in on him a lot.”
Jeremy was able to make a full recovery. However, his perspective on the virus due to his first-hand experience has him encouraging other to step up to the plate and take responsibility for not just oneself, but others.
His first bit of advice? While Jeremy has worn multiple versions of a mask throughout his life on both the gridiron and the hospital, he encourages others to follow the guidelines and don masks of their own.
“Continue to wear your mask,” Jeremy said. “I know that’s a hot topic for debate right now but wearing a mask not only protects you, it protects your family and it protects other people’s family. I know a lot of people feel as if being mandated to wear a mask is imposing on their rights of doing whatever they want. To me I feel that that stance is a little selfish because you never know what another person may be dealing with. They may be immunocompromised or something like that. Throwing a mask on maybe uncomfortable but you’re doing your neighbor a favor and protecting them from what could be a really deadly disease. We never really know how the disease will affect someone and I’m really grateful that I had a lighter course of the disease.
Jeremy also offered two more tips for those who want to maintain proper precautions,
“Also, continuing just to wash your hands,” Jeremy said. “Sanitize your cell phone. We always touch our cell phones and no one really thinks to wipe their phone every day — at least most people don’t.”
Both Jared and Jeremy have been on quite a journey throughout their lives, and it’s only just beginning. Both have played football at the school they wanted to attend since they were kids and are now on track to become doctors in the near future.
So what about the astronaut portion of their childhood dreams?
“You never know with SpaceX,” Jared laughed.