Pine Bluff seniors Austin McGehee and Stephen Watson took two incredibly different paths to National Signing Day.
Both paths converged on Wednesday as the duo sat together at a table in the lobby of McFadden Gymnasium to sign their respective national letters of intent to play college football.
McGehee, a punter/kicker, signed with Purdue out of the Big Ten Conference, while Watson, an offensive lineman, signed with Russellville-based Arkansas Tech — a Division II school in the Great American Conference.
“I’ve got to say it’s the best feeling in the world,” McGehee said. “To know where I’m going to be spending my next four years is just amazing.”
McGehee verbally committed to Purdue in late June after visiting the school’s campus in West Lafayette, Ind.
“It just felt like home,” he said. “Like I could see myself living there after college.
“It was just so complete … both academically and athletically.”
Whereas McGehee had his plans decided seven months in advance, Watson didn’t verbally commit to Arkansas Tech until the end of January.
“It was a really friendly environment,” Watson said. “It felt like a family. I really liked the coaches. …
“I was out on the field there and said I could see myself playing here.”
Aside from Purdue, McGehee said he had a scholarship offer from Houston and a preferred walk-on offer from Arkansas.
The Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas first-team kicker finished his senior year 7 for 11 on field goals, 42 of 44 on extra points and had a 40.7 average on 23 punts.
His shining moment came on a 43-yard field goal as time expired in Pine Bluff’s 37-34 win over Greenwood in the 6A state semifinals.
Watson said Henderson State, Ouachita Baptist, Harding and Southern Arkansas also showed interest in him.
As a senior, the 6-foot-2, 295-pound offensive lineman recorded 22 pancake blocks to earn a spot on the SEARK second-team.
“I’m very versatile,” Watson said. “I’ve played all over the line, so they can put me anywhere and I’ll know what to do.
“I think it helps a lot, because if anybody goes down I can step in and play.”
With several Zebras teammates on hand, head coach Bobby Bolding said he hopes the signings serve as motivation.
“I hope it encourages them to work in the classroom,” he said. “We never had a problem motivating them on the field.
“They need to know that colleges look at that stuff, and if you don’t make the grades, they aren’t going to look at you.”
McGehee also said he hopes he and Watson can serve as inspiration to Pine Bluff’s younger players.
“There is so much promise in this program,” McGehee said. “There is so much negativity in this community, but being able to get an athletic scholarship can bring so much positivity.
“The juniors and sophomores can look at us and see two teammates signing and think, ‘Maybe I can do it.’”