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November 7, 2013

Watt to give it a shot

Chris Watt doesn’t miss football games.

Since entering the starting lineup against South Florida in the 2011 season-opener, the left guard from Glen Ellyn, Ill., had answered the bell 34 straight times next to his offensive line running mate, Zack Martin.

But when Watt suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee late in the second quarter against Air Force on Oct. 26, the resulting damage left him physically unprepared to take on Navy in Notre Dame Stadium last weekend.

“Going into the game last week, I expected to play,” Watt said. “But I didn’t get a ton of (reps) against full-padded guys.

“I was just feeling a little bit of instability. We ran a couple outside zone plays and some inside zone plays (during pre-game), and I just wasn’t getting to my guy. I have a lot of pride in the way I play, and if I’m not going to be able to help the team out, I’m not going to put myself out there and hurt the team. I was just like, ‘Jeez, I can’t really move this way. I feel like I’m kind of leaving my feet behind me when I’m about to hit the backers.’”

The injury occurred on a 2nd-and-10 from the Air Force 30 with the Irish marching to a field goal that would give them a 24-10 halftime lead.

“It was a combination block with Zack,” Watt recalled. “My right foot kind of got stuck in the ground, and then at that point, I got hit and my leg bent awkwardly. They said it was a driver crash-type of injury. It’s a weird injury. When I got up, I wasn’t sure what it was, and then the pain set in.”

Watt praised junior Conor Hanratty, who filled in at left guard and played an aggressive, attacking game against the Midshipmen.

“He did a great job,” Watt said. “Conor is a great competitor. He’s been in this program and this offense for a while, so I knew he was going to do a great job. He practiced well all week.”

Watt remained prepared to enter the Navy game.

“Coach (Harry) Hiestand told me to stay dressed because if there was a situation where Conor got hurt and we didn’t have anyone else, I was going to have to go back in, which I was willing to do.”

This week, in preparation for Pittsburgh, Watt has had a much greater opportunity to rebuild confidence in his ability to play with the torn PCL. On Tuesday and Wednesday, full-padded days, Watt worked with the first unit and went full-tilt.

“I’m feeling better, a lot better than last week,” Watt said. “It’s an injury that will heal over time. It was pretty bad last week. This week I’m making some subtle adjustments as far as certain steps I’m taking. But (Wednesday) was great. I practiced the whole time, all the series with the ones, and I felt really good moving around.”

Watt and the Irish offensive line will have their hands full with senior three-technique Aaron Donald, a 6-foot-0, 285-pounder who is truly one of the most dynamic interior defensive linemen in the country.

“It’s going to be a great test,” Watt said. “I’m continuing to build confidence every day. I was out there in full pads Tuesday and Wednesday, so I’ve gained a lot of confidence through that, and then preparation and film and just reading my keys every play. I’ve been playing a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things, so I’ll just try to use my experience.”

He may not be 100 percent healthy, but he’s 100 percent certain he’ll participate against Pittsburgh.

“Oh, I’m going to play this weekend,” Watt said.

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