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Raiders scoop up pair of late-bloomers

  • Florida State tackle Menelik Watson, left, grew up playing soccer and basketball in England before taking up football in college. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

ALAMEDA — Five years ago, Sio Moore had never played linebacker. That was a world of experience compared to Menelik Watson, who had barely heard of football.

Friday, the Raiders made Watson their second-round draft choice (at No. 42 overall), and Moore their third-rounder (at No. 66).

What the two players lack in pedigree, they seem to make up for with confidence, personality and raw athleticism.

“I spoke to both those players after we took them, and both of them have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. “They want to prove that they belong in the NFL, they want to prove that they were worthy of being picked where they were picked and, really, in their minds, should have been picked sooner. So that’s a great thing.”

Watson’s path to the NFL was wildly meandering. Born in Manchester, England, he grew up playing soccer and basketball. In fact, at 15 or 16 he played in a national basketball championship against Jack Crawford, now a Raiders defensive end.

Watson wound up playing hoops at Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain, then for a traveling Spanish club, and earned a scholarship to Marist College in New York as a power forward. He stayed there two years before leaving school, then took up boxing.

Only at that point did Watson consider playing football. He got an opportunity at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, playing alongside Kyle Long — son of Raiders great Howie Long and a first-round pick by the Bears on Thursday.

“I remember in our first practice, we were in a pass play and I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to go upfield on a pass play,” Watson said. “So I just grabbed this defensive end and just ran him all the way up the field about 10 yards, and coach Mac (Mark McElroy) down there at Saddleback was watching film, and he was like, ‘Son, you can’t do that.’ It’s a pass play and he was like, ‘Oh, my God, what am I working with?’”

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