Head coach plans retirement


Photo courtesy Joe Kyburz

Head coach Keith Watson coaches the JC team to victory against St. Paul’s and Gilman to maintain their ranking as 2 in the state. Watson has coached 23 All-Americans and nine state champions at JC.

With a 290-69 record and nine state champions, as well as 23 All-American’s in 13 seasons at JC, varsity head wrestling coach Keith Watson calls it a career and heads into retirement from wrestling.

The former Bel Air High School coach and the current coach of the Patriots hopes to ride off into the sunset with a championship. “This should be our year,” Watson said.

Watson was close to never coaching at JC. He was first approached for the head coaching job by former coach and current Harford County Chairman Richard C. Slutzky in 2001. “Slutzky asked me if I was interested in coaching at JC, but I told him I couldn’t that year because I had committed to this one kid and couldn’t leave him,” Watson said. “If the job is still open the following year I’ll take it.”

Watson promised that kid, Tim Kassouf Bel Air ‘02, he’d be a state champion if he listened to what he told him to do. Kassouf ended up winning the state championship match 1-0 and Watson took the job at JC in 2002. “I’m big about respect and commitment. I’d go to war for my guys and they do the same for me. I couldn’t leave [Kassouf] like that after I made a commitment to him. Fortunately, things worked out and I still came to JC,” Watson said.

Kassouf wasn’t the only kid he preached to about working hard and being successful. He echoes this mantra to all of his kids. “It’s not about the kids who are superstars already like the Hunter Ritters or Mat Millers of the world, I tell my staff the kids we really have to grind out and teach are the kids who have never wrestled before and make them better. The superstars, you just [have to] make them huff and puff and sweat because they already know what they have to do,” Watson said.

Sophomore varsity starter Eric Ashton started wrestling his freshman year. “He [Watson] convinced me to wrestle, I’m sad that he’s leaving, but I understand why,” Ashton said.

Watson has enjoyed his time at JC and even though he will be stepping down as head coach, he won’t be leaving the school or the wrestling program completely.

He will still help be an assistant to whoever the school decides to pick as the next head coach. “I hope they pick John Thorton (two years on the staff) or Tommy Free (first year on the staff), but it’s not my decision to make,” Watson said. “They both are better wrestling people than I am, but the head coaching position has so many aspects people don’t see, such as making sure we aren’t in too many or not enough tournaments/matches, the level of competition, etc.”

Watson also hopes to help with the new business program, FLEX, in any way possible. He has been a financial planner for the past 25 years and hopes to teach students the basics of mortgages, how to reduce debt, how to save money, how money works, and more. “I gave Mr. Dukes my five year notice four and a half years ago, I had this planned out for a while now,” Watson said.

Over the years, Watson has gained respect from alumni and has been noted to be a positive change in their lives on and off the mat.

“Coach Watson probably doesn’t even realize it – but that’s just the kind of guy he is – but he has been one of the most influential people in my wrestling career, and I would not be where I am today without all of the help he has given me throughout the years,” NCAA All-American Mat Miller, class of ‘11, and formerly ranked seventh in the nation said. Miller is the winningest wrestler in JC history. “If it wasn’t for him bringing me into JC and convincing my dad, I probably wouldn’t have even wrestled in high school.”

The main goal as a coach for Watson is to make sure everyone has a positive experience and enjoys their time. “I want kids to go to their reunions and say remember how fun this was or that was,” Watson said.

According to Miller and Ashton, the program will be at a loss without Watson and the dynamic he brought to the wrestling program.

“I’m happy for him. He seemed too stressed out sometimes. If I was him, I would have retired already, but in the words of the great poet 50 Cent, ‘sleep is for broke people,’” Miller said.

Watson develops personal relationships with his players as well, often known to opening up his house to his players and following up on them after they graduate.

Kishan Patel is a Sports Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.