- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Asa Watson says he has always had the heart to help people.
In quite a twist, it was his bad heart that got him started on one of his first mission trips at NC State.
It was 2011, the year Watson had his first heart surgery to correct a rapid heartbeat. Coaches told him he would have to redshirt. Watson decided he wanted to do something big. So rather than attend the first session of summer school, he volunteered with Athletes In Action's "Urban Project L.A."
Watson spent three weeks volunteering and was mainly in the Skid Row section of the city, helping out kids, working on urban renewal projects and getting to know the community itself.
The trip had such a profound impact on him, he volunteered with the project again during spring break last March.
"That was a really eye-opening experience because I had never been around an area so stricken by poverty," Watson said in a recent phone interview. "That had such an impact on me. I also had great experiences with the people I met, and leading up to this year, I realized as a senior my time is running out. I always wanted to do something for my spring break. I decided this was the time to do it."
Watson spent time in Compton on his second trip, working on a prayer tour, visiting local ministries and connecting with children in the area. He also did some work around the community as well, and spent time at the local Salvation Army.
When Watson was younger, he did some mission trips as well. His dad, Ken, is a pastor in Norfolk, Va. His mom went on many trips. The first one they went on together was to Belize. "That one started my heart for helping people," Watson said.
Along the way, there have been trips to Jamaica and Canada, as well. But the two trips to Los Angeles opened his eyes to an even bigger truth. Spending a few weeks somewhere is really only a start.
"In order to get lasting, sustainable change you have to spend a long time investing in a place, you have to learn to know the people in the community and figure out what their real need is," Watson said. "People don't need just a meal and a pair of shoes. They need better resources and a vision to see that there is a way to improve their lives, improve their situations."
Watson has given of himself during times of great uncertainty in his own life. As a sophomore at NC State, he started feeling lightheaded sometimes during practices, and his heart would race uncontrollably. Doctors discovered he had too many electrical pathways to his heart.
"Instead of one heartbeat, I had three," he said.
After the first procedure did not completely correct the problem, Watson underwent a second heart surgery in 2012. He remains on medication to help control his heartbeat. Though it sounds downright scary, doctors tell Watson his heart condition puts him in no extra danger when playing contact sports.
"When I explain to people, most can’t understand. It just felt like my heart was tired," Watson said. "I’ve learned to deal with it. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but there’s still those instances when my heart beats too fast, and I get lightheaded and have to stop."
Now going into his final season, Watson has one last shot to make an impact on the offense. New coach Dave Doeren has Watson listed as the first-team tight end on the post-spring depth chart.
"I think the tight end is going to play a pretty big role in the offense," Watson said. "I’m going to have to be a great blocker, and I’m going to have to be able to receive the ball when asked. I’m looking forward to the change."