World of Sport

Manchester boy Watson selected by Raiders in NFL Draft

World of Sport

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Menelik Watson at the NFL Draft combine

Manchester-born Menelik Watson has been selected by the Oakland Raiders in round two of the 2013 NFL Draft, but the Briton admits he knew nothing about American football as a youth.

Watson, who traded a tough inner-city upbringing in Longsight for American college life at Florida State University, was expected to be snapped up on the opening day of the draft.

The 24-year-old was made to wait a further 24 hours before his future was decided, with the Raiders making him the 42nd overall pick in the second round - still a remarkable achievement considering he only took up the sport two years ago.

Watson is set for a multi-million dollar contract with the Raiders but grew up in extreme poverty in Manchester's Longsight district.

Two of his brothers end up in prison for gang-related crime - but Menelik's athletic ability saw him taken, via a college in Spain, to Florida on a basketball scholarship.

When his basketball career began to stall, he ended up trying out for the American football side instead - and at 6'6" and 21 stone, was an instant sensation who became one of the most sought-after college players in America.

"He can do things with a 300-pound body that no-one can do," his college coach Rick Trickett said - and for that reason, the offensive tackle became a favourite to be offered a deal in the very first round of picks.

While that did not materialise, Watson was nevertheless in good company in the second round, with Manti Te'o selected by the San Diego Chargers, ending an anxious wait for one of the game's most scrutinised and controversial players.

Watson's new employers are a shadow of the team that once helped make the NFL so popular in the UK in the early 1980s and the Raiders finished last season with a 4-12 record.

Watson admitted he knew nothing about the sport as a child but used to wear a Raiders jersey of unknown origin - some coincidence given they drafted him on Friday.

“When I was a kid I knew nothing about American football but I had an Oakland Raiders jersey for some reason and I don’t know where it came from or how we got it,” he admitted after the draft.

“I think it’s my older brother’s and I don’t know how he got it... so it’s really strange that I’m getting drafted for them.

“I knew (the NFL) was a football league, but I didn’t know what it was. I used to think it was similar to rugby, and people said, ‘Yeah, it’s like rugby, but they start and stop every minute,’ so that was my impression.”

Watson said he fell into American football by chance after being convinced by friends and coaches. Indeed, he had been planning to give up on sport after being told he would not make the cut as an NBA player.

“I was planning on going back to Europe and getting a job. Actually, I didn’t know what I was going to do; I was going home with no plan.

“Before I left, a lot of people were telling me to try and play football. I know obviously what happened with (2012 Raiders pick Jack Crawford, another British ex-basketball player) when he came over to the States.

“My friend Matt Williams plays college football at Cal Berkeley. We have a similar situation, but they all (converted to football) out of prep school, while I was trying to convert from college.

“When I got out on the field I just found a love and passion for the sport, the physicality of it and just the history of the sport.”

Watson's fellow Englishmen in the Draft - Team GB London 2012 Olympic discus finalist Lawrence Okoye and 20-year-old Crawley linebacker Tom Wort - are yet to be taken and not expected to be so until Saturday, when rounds four to seven are completed.

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stands at the podium at the 2013 NFL Draft (AFP)

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