Aces QB Watson's journey: From homeless to the gridiron

ENID, Okla. — Malik Watson never anticipated he would be living in his car.

“It was honestly the most humbling experience possible and one of the most challenging situations I’ve had,” he said.

The Oklahoma Flying Aces quarterback graduated from San Jose State University in 2016, finishing his final semester with a 3.6 GPA. He planned on playing his final year of eligibility at Hampton University that fall, where he said he was initially named the starter.

But things changed. Hampton University didn’t work out.

“It was a (mutual) decision to have me get healthy that year and figure out what I wanted to do moving forward,” Watson said.

So, he had to come back to California where, for “personal and financial” reasons, he had to rely on his car to be his transportation and his shelter. For a month, he lived in his white 2000 Lexus 300, all the while he improved his health and trained for football, in addition to playing Lysander in the local theater’s production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

When asked if he was doubtful he’d ever play football again, Watson snorted and looked down toward the turf of Stride Bank Center.

“Honestly, yeah,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in that situation. You can only imagine…”

Watson relishes living outside his comfort zone. It’s also why he majored in theater.

“Taking an acting class, you find out so much about yourself,” he said. “I think doing that, allowing myself to create more layers and get outside my comfort zone, make more challenges, was something I loved.”

After a month, Watson found a sales job with Uber in San Francisco and found an apartment in Santa Clara before playing the 2017 season at Dixie State. Looking back, Watson said living in his car was another opportunity to be outside his comfort zone.

“It was something, I guess, I had to embrace,” he said. “That was just another challenge that I was going to accept.”

'Damn good'

Before he came to Enid, Watson had his future plans change, again.

In March, he was signed by the Arkansas Twisters, an indoor football team in the National Gridiron League. But the league suspended its 2019 season. In the meantime, Watson was waiting for other opportunities in the Canadian Football League and revived XFL to emerge. He was on a waiting list with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos. His agent was in talks with XFL teams. Instead of continuing his training in limbo, Watson decided to take up an offer from the Flying Aces.

In addition to building up his professional film history, Watson said he wanted to be a part of what the franchise was building in Enid.

“The amount of talent that we have on this team is something I didn't really want to pass up,” he said.

The Flying Aces were in luck, as they had released their starting quarterback during the bye week and signed Watson on April 22.

“We had to throw him in the fire,” said Oklahoma head coach and team president Richard Davis. “He had no prep time. We didn't get a preseason game for him. Like, ‘Here you go, get after it and let’s roll with it.’”

Watson threw for 139 yards for two touchdowns and two interceptions in his debut against the Wichita Force on . It was another challenge Watson embraced.

“Getting hit for the first time in, like, a year and a half,” he said. “That was something I looked forward to.”

“I know Malik is going to be a damn good football player,” Davis said “He showed some real skills. I just know his upside is very high.”

Unfortunately, Watson may have another unexpected challenge to overcome after being injured on the third offensive possession of the Flying Aces' 42-23 loss to Omaha on Saturday. Watson suffered a shoulder injury. Davis indicated his status for the rest of the season now is uncertain.

The Marathon Continues

Motivation comes from a variety of places for Malik Watson.

There are phrases from his high school — “Be the hammer, not the nail,” — and tattoos on his body that keep him going, among them a gladiator’s helmet above two swords on his right forearm, with, “Now, we are free” written underneath, a quote from the movie, "Gladiator."

But the most powerful message he draws from is T.M.C.

“The Marathon Continues,” Watson said.

It’s the name of late-rapper Nipsey Hussle’s mixtape, released in 2011. Nipsey was a hero to Watson and a prominent figure not only in Los Angeles, but across the globe. Nipsey was a philanthropist and created businesses that hired and helped the homeless in the community.

He was shot and killed outside one of his businesses on March 31.

After meeting Nipsey’s father and learning about the magnitude of Nipsey’s influence, Watson said he was motivated to get back to football and keep his journey going.

“When something moves you,” he said. “It’s impossible to get it outside your head.”

Football, Watson said, is something that “absolutely,” moves him.

“I think I've been blessed to play this game,” he said. “I want to play this game as long as I can on this beautiful green Earth.”