Cory Watson claims he didn’t play football until after he arrived in Canada at the age of nine.
It turns out he actually did play the sport when he lived in his birth country of Jamaica; he just didn’t know it at the time.
“The funny thing is we got a football once,” said Watson, who was only a soccer and cricket player when he was eight years old. “It was odd shaped. We had no clue what it was. We were kicking it like a soccer ball, but it was rolling awkwardly, so it was quite funny.
“Only when I came up here I realized what it was.”
Watson may have been born in Jamaica, but Canada Day means a great deal to the 26-year-old rookie receiver with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The country has given much to Watson and his family, and they’ll never forget it.
“Canada means a lot to me,” Watson said. “I make Canada my home right now. I consider myself Canadian more than Jamaican, so therefore I’m Canadian by some kind of right.
“It got me and mom a lot. We came from Jamaica, and it gave us a lot of opportunities.”
The timing, therefore, couldn’t be better for Watson to make his professional debut in Canada’s professional football league. The ninth overall pick in May’s CFL draft will start for the Blue and Gold in Friday’s season-opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“I’m a little bit excited,” Watson said after practice on Wednesday. “Tomorrow I might be nervous, but right now I’m excited about it.”
Watson was stumped when asked what he might be doing for a living today had his single mom, Ann-Marie Spence, not moved the family to the Montreal area in 1993.
“That’s a good question,” said Watson, who has nine brothers and sisters. “I really don’t know. I have friends in Jamaica, and as a male it’s kind of hard to find a job there if you’re not really into your studies.”
Luckily for Watson and his siblings, they had their grandfather and an uncle, Dave Spence, in Montreal to lean on as they made the adjustment to the Great White North.
Not that Dave Spence made it easy on Watson, who ran outside the first time it snowed — in his bare feet, no less — to see what the white stuff was all about. His uncle then locked the door so he could really experience a Canadian winter.
“I learned real fast that the white snow, it is cold,” Watson said with a laugh.
He started playing football when he was 12, and he eventually wound up at Concordia University, where the 6-foot-2, 208-pound pass catcher became the Stingers’ leading receiver for three consecutive seasons and a CIS second-team All-Canadian last fall.
Watson is now the highest pick from this year’s draft to have landed a starting role on his team’s offence or defence.
“I’m sure there’s some other guys out there that are contributing,” said Watson, who had a touchdown catch in Winnipeg’s pre-season game against the Ticats. “Even though they’re not starting, it’s something.
“I’m fortunate to be in a situation where I’m able to go out there and start.”
Being Canadian has its privileges, in more ways than one.