This was exactly what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hoped to hear from quarterback Deshaun Watson. Still, Swinney wondered if he got the good news too soon.
It was national signing day during Watson’s sophomore year at Statesville (Ga.) High School. The Tigers were all over Watson as a prized recruit. Watson called Swinney to say, “I’m your quarterback.”
Swinney told Watson not to commit too soon, that he was two years away from being able to sign a national letter of intent. Swinney and the coaching staff wanted Watson in the worst way, but it was important not to undermine what everyone hoped would be a long-term relationship.
Swinney learned something important that day: Watson doesn’t commit to anything without thinking it through, and once he says he’s doing something, he gives that pursuit his heart.
So after graduating from high school early, he enrolled at Clemson in spring 2014. He took over as a starter that fall as a freshman and then went on to graduate from the school in three years, taking massive credit hours each semester. There was one bit of unfinished business: winning Monday’s the national championship game rematch after losing to Alabama in January 2016.
Nothing about Watson’s 420 passing yards Monday surprised Swinney. Neither did his three passing touchdowns and one rushing score. When seconds were draining from the fourth quarter Monday against the Crimson Tide, and the safe thing might have been to kick a tying field goal, Swinney trusted Watson to make the roll-out read that led to receiver Hunter Renfrow’s 2-yard touchdown reception for a 35-31 victory. A second remained on the clock when Renfrow secured that catch.
Swinney and the assistant coaches trust Watson emphatically. Why not? He ends his college career with a 32-3 record as a starter.
“He’s the best player in the country. If anybody doubts that, it’s just ridiculous,” said Swinney, who gets emotional about the Heisman Trophy instead going to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“He didn’t lose out on the Heisman, the Heisman lost out on him,” Swinney said early Tuesday morning. “They lost out on an opportunity to be attached to this guy forever. This guy – his class, his humility – this was his Heisman tonight, and this is what he really wanted.
“This is what he came to Clemson to do.”
Watson isn’t nearly so put-out by not winning the Heisman as a two-time finalist for college football’s highest award. That’s consistent with his makeup: He concerns himself only with what he can truly impact, and the voting habits of media and former players is beyond that scope.
Similarly, when Watson was asked Tuesday whether he desired to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in April, he said he’s more concerned with preparing for the transition to the NFL than he is with teams’ perception of his potential.
The argument for him as the top pick: He’s equally good as a passer and runner. He will extend plays against elite pass-rushers. He’s also tough. Alabama’s massive front seven sacked him four times Monday, and that never discouraged him from sticking it out in the pocket.
The finishing touch is an almost eerie calm during the decisive moments of big games.
“I just quiet everything,” Watson said of the seconds before the ball was hiked on his touchdown pass to Renfrow. “I couldn’t even hear the crowd.”