Graduating as arguably one of the most decorated student-athletes ever to play for the UW-Superior men's soccer team, Eric Watson was just one day away from making his professional debut before the coronavirus pandemic halted sports around the world in March.
Watson, a four-time All-UMAC selection, the league's 2019 offensive player of the year and just the fourth Yellowjacket to be named an Academic All-America® as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America, was set to suit up for Glossop North End AFC, a non-league side in the Northern Premier League. But, for now, his career is on hold.
"Obviously, the sporting world as a whole is at a standstill at this given time, but I'm hopeful that when things eventually return to normal that there will still be opportunities for the athletes who aren't world superstars to still chase their dreams of playing no matter the level that is," he said. "I'm still in contact with Glossop North End's manager, and prior to my departure from England amid the COVID-19 crisis, I was reassured that the club would like to have me represent them when things return to normal.
"There are a lot of variables that are still in play, but I'm hopeful there will be a chance to pick up where I left off," he said.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario native is a dual citizen of Canada and England. He said his time at UWS helped him be in the position to begin his career overseas after he graduated in December.
"When I look back at my time at UWS, I am extremely thankful for the opportunity that was given to me by all those that were at the school during my three-and-a-half years at the institution," he said. "UWS allowed me the opportunity to grow my ability as a player with the opportunities that were available to make an impact in the program from day one."
Watson, a two-year captain, also grew into an outstanding leader of his team, helping the 'Jackets to three consecutive NCAA tournaments from 2017-19 and a level of success never before seen for the program.
"I think ultimately the program gave me the chance to grow my confidence and harness the ability that I was at times too scared to show prior to my time as a Yellowjacket," Watson said. "As a person, [head coach] Joe Mooney and the coaching staff fostered a culture that allowed me to be who I was and be comfortable with my values. In turn, the freedom offered to me through the program's culture allowed me the opportunity to maximize my potential both on and off the pitch, learning that in order to be successful I had to be true to myself."
This won't be Watson's first foray into the English game, however. Prior to arriving in Superior, he had trials with several English clubs, most notably Reading FC, which, at the time, was part of the English Premier League.
"My experiences at Reading when I was younger certainly helped me with the manner in which a professional club functions and the manner in which the individuals within the scope of the club behave and train," Watson said. "But, in all honesty, I think every new experience is unique and that means you can't always rely on prior experiences to get you through the new that you encounter in the future.
"So, I think, as a whole the opportunity I had when I was at Reading showed me where I needed to be and was a catalyst for my drive to succeed in the years to come," he said.
While he waits, Watson is doing what he can to stay fit and lend a helping hand during the pandemic.
"Like many of my fellow athletes, I have been getting used to modifying my training," he said. "I've been doing a lot of at-home workouts, while still managing to get in the necessary ball work and conditioning work so that when things do eventually open up again I won't have a ton of work to get back to match sharpness.
"I've also been working part-time as a food-service worker in long-term care, and this has certainly helped to fill the days." Watson said. "I feel very lucky to be in a position to help those who are vulnerable in our given climate at the moment."