Sitting around the living room and watching a football game on TV really wasn't a priority for Justin Watson and his family when he was growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena.
"I'm the first generation born in the United States. My parents are from Jamaica," Watson said."My father never really introduced me to the game, so we never had a college nor professional game on television in our home."
Actually, playing any sort of organized football wasn't a priority either, and Watson didn't do so until his senior year at Marshall High School. Yet, with little experience but a lot of potential, he earned a scholarship to San Diego State University.
"My last game of the year, I thought this would be my last football game I ever play. Let me just do what I can," Watson said. "I rushed for 300-plus yards, scored four touchdowns, and all of a sudden, my coach, James McAlister, put together some information on me and sent it out to some universities. I started to get a few looks and San Diego State was one of them."
Undrafted in 1998, Watson signed as a free agent with the Chargers and spent part of the season on their practice squad. He was then allocated to the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe.
"That was probably the experience that started my true passion and desire to want to really learn the game, be the best that I could possibly be, and be a part of the NFL," Watson said. "I started to really just love the spirit of the game and everything that it encompassed."
Just before the season got underway, Watson learned that the game was also a business when his head coach, Wes Chandler, called him into his office and handed him a copy of USA Today.
"It read that I had been released from the Chargers," Watson said. "I never got a call or a notice. It was just, boom, right here in my face that you've been released. And from that point, I said, 'Well, I'm here. I'm the starter. I'm just going to go through the process and play as hard as I can and see what happens.'
"And, sure enough, after the season, Charlie Armey, who was the G.M. for the Rams, gave me a call and said he had spoken with some coaches and they had spoken well of me. So he brought me into camp."
Only getting one chance to make a first impression, Watson made his a good one during the opening day of the Rams' 1999 training camp, when on the last play of the second practice, he caught head coach Dick Vermeil's attention.
"When you're the seventh or eighth back on the depth chart, getting in and getting a look, it's like gold. It's what can you do with the opportunity?" Watson said.
"They called my name to go in on that last play, and I was hoping it was a run play so I can get the ball and show everybody what I had. Well, it was a pass play.
"And so as soon as that ball took off out of Kurt's [Warner] hands down the field to Torry Holt, I ran my check-down route and ran down field with 110 percent effort as fast as I possibly could, and got to the ball about the time that Torry caught it and jacked-up (cornerback) Dre' Bly a little bit."
At the team meeting that evening, it was Vermeil who was jacked up. Showing film of the last play to the players and assistant coaches, he pinpointed Watson with a red laser pointer and said,'I want you to take a good look this kid right here.' Everyone was watching. What did Dick want them to see? And he illustrated me in that play and the effort that I had in practice. He said, 'If we're going to win a championship, this is how we have to work. This is how we have to do it. This is the effort that it takes.'
Watson continued. "On the opposite side of the field, there were guys on the defense that were actually, during the middle of that play, walking back to the line of scrimmage as if the play was over. And he pointed those guys out and said, 'Look at you guys. You're going this way. This guy is going that way. I'll take this guy on my team any day of the week.'"
True to his word, Vermeil put the young running back on St. Louis' roster. Backing up then-future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, Watson helped the Rams post a 13-3 record and win Super Bowl XXXIV.
"We prided ourselves in practicing at game speed," Watson said. "So even if you're giving your starters a look, they're getting a right look, they're getting a quality look. And after that game, I was in an elevator with Dick Vermeil, and he looked at me and said, 'We couldn't have done this without you.'
"I attribute a lot of that success to guys like me that are in the locker room that make a difference for the guys around them and understand how to build that team camaraderie and energy and really, just work ethic."
The same work ethic that Watson demonstrated during his three seasons with the Rams, 1999-01, is evident today. He recently accepted a position as the managing director for sales and marketing for Raven & Company, a private equity and asset management firm in Santa Monica.
"Being able to see the world from this lens, in the business of private credit and private equity and playing with the big boys in the business world, I mean, that's very intriguing when you're dealing with companies in business ventures and capital," Watson said. "It's a new world that I'm excited to be involved with."
Watson is also an entrepreneur. After working in real estate development, he founded the Studio Physique Athletic Club in San Gabriel in 2004. And he owns Matte Black Luxury Transportation.
And two years ago, Watson started a coffee company – BLQK Coffee.
"During the pandemic, and in the social justice issues that arose around the George Floyd incident, it just kind of led me in a direction where I wanted to see what I could do to give back to underprivileged kids, kids in marginalized communities," he said. "We established this project to give back 25 percent of our proceeds into these (Los Angeles area) communities and these kids. So that was the reason for getting into the space. And I figured the vessel was coffee because I'm passionate about coffee. I enjoy my experience every day. So I figured let's sell some beans and give back where we can."
Making their home in Pasadena, Watson and his wife, Traci, have two children: Anniston and Ashton. "The best thing about being Justin Watson today is I would say really being a father to my two young ones." He said. "That's my greatest joy. It's my love and my passion and being able to position myself to really position them for the future."