Xavier Watts spent some of his childhood aspiring to be like professional wrestler John Cena.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound wide receiver will instead look to become like his new idol — Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs. Watts plans to start that ascent at Notre Dame, which received his verbal commitment on Friday. He announced the news on Twitter.
The Irish will likely sign three receivers to their 2020 recruiting class. They met that number with two new pledges over the last nine days. Shrewsbury (Mass.) St. John’s High receiver Jay Brunelle committed to the Irish last Wednesday and joined highly coveted Jordan Johnson, a five-star recruit per Rivals, in the class.
Watts, from Omaha (Neb.) Burke, nearly committed to the Irish during his June 21-23 official visit to South Bend. He opted to take time, though, to mull over his decision. Notre Dame's coaching staff closed on Watts after staying in contact with him daily. His desire to commit lingered.
“It’s a top-tier program,” Watts told the Tribune following the trip. “They are a great school. You are set up for life when you get a degree from there.”
As a three-star recruit, Watts might not be perceived as a groundbreaking addition. But the Irish made him feel like a top target after offering him on Jan. 26. He became even more important after two of Notre Dame's top receiver targets — Jalen McMillan and A.J. Henning — committed elsewhere in back-to-back days last week.
McMillan, from Fresno (Calif.) San Joaquin Memorial, committed to Washington. Henning, from Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln-Way East, pledged to Michigan. Both four-star recruits considered Notre Dame as a top school.
Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, saw Watts in the spring and said he could play inside or outside receiver. Watts could benefit from adding muscle and strength.
“That’s a big catch. He’s a four-star-plus, outstanding receiver and has good hands and can run,” Lemming said. “Big-time athlete and the No. 1 player in Nebraska. Great character, loved by everybody at the school. Work ethic. Grades. He can run.
“He has average size for a receiver. Not small, but not really big.”
Speed and production make Watts an intriguing prospect. He clocked a 4.49 40-yard dash and caught 67 passes for 1,093 yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 games as a junior. 247Sports ranks Watts as its No. 77 wide receiver and No. 412 overall player in 2020 class, while Rivals slates him No. 94 at the position. He plans to enroll early, in January.
Burke also tasked Watts with playing safety — in addition to playing receiver — for the first time last season. As Watts learned the new position, Notre Dame increasingly became more interested in him at receiver. He first visited for ND’s Sept. 29 home game against Stanford. Watts took another unofficial visit on April 11 and watched an Irish spring practice.
Notre Dame’s 2020 recruiting class of 17 commits now ranks No. 6 and No. 7 nationally on 247Sports and Rivals, respectively. The Irish would likely make space for McMillan if he wavers on his commitment. He planned to take an official visit for ND’s Oct. 12 home game against USC.
"Wide receiver is the one position that is absolutely loaded every year around the country," Lemming said. "Jordan Johnson is big time, as is Watts. It’s a good haul, but they struck out on a lot of wide receivers.”
Four-star receiver Michael Redding III out of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy was once another option. But Watts and Brunelle emerged as higher priorities. Redding told the Tribune this week that Notre Dame ceased contact with him in May. He pledged to Miami last week.
That treatment might explain how Notre Dame pulled Watts away from Nebraska, as well as Michigan, Tennessee, Iowa State, Wisconsin and others. He would become the first Nebraska recruit to sign with Notre Dame under Brian Kelly.
“They for sure have made me feel like I’m a top priority,” Watts said last Tuesday. “They want me to come there and be a playmaker. They see me as someone who can really impact their offense.”