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It happens every now and then when you’re thumbing through the radio on a drive to nowhere special just kicking away miles of asphalt. Something comes on that you’ve never heard of, and you almost want to stop the car to write down who it is when it’s over. You don’t, but you say the name of the band 40 times in your head so you don’t forget, and then go find it the next time you’re on the Interwebs.
Last year in college football, that song was a mostly unknown Clemson quarterback named Deshaun Watson, who never seemed to get played enough on air last year … mostly because of bad injury luck.
I hate writing these type of pieces. I really do. They’re hot-take-ish because we have no earthly idea about the Heisman race or anything about college football at this point, but I guess I just want people to even more believe in Watson, who by all accounts is an elite young man whether he’s a great football player or not.
Look, the reality is that most college football players (and successful students in any demographic) have unique stories, but the reality also is that we don’t hear about all of them, so when we find a great story that we do hear, it deserves to be shared.
Watson, as this piece in a Greenville (S.C.) newspaper shows, didn’t have it easy. Stuck in low income housing and working around the strictures and pitfalls that come with it, this story could have gone the other way. Long story short, Watson found a Habitat for Humanity card in a Halloween bag, his family got a nice place to live, and Watson has been paying the world back ever since.
He has the on-field toughness to match the off-field, playing against South Carolina on a torn ACL before knowing he had to shut it down for the year and begin rehab. This was after a broken finger sidelined him.
Watson broke onto the scene in a near Clemson upset of defending champ Florida State that would have happened if not for a ghastly untimely turnover late in the game. The next two weeks, he would account for 10 touchdowns, compared to one interception. Next week against Louisville, he busted the finger and was gone as soon as he came on.
His career has a long way to go, but he smells of something special as long as he can stay healthy. For any football player (and ultimately, team), that’s the eternal asterisk.
Watson’s play evokes some sort of amalgam of Tim Tebow and Braxton Miller, mixed with Tajh Boyd. Though he seems to be cognizant of the pressure surrounding him and Clemson’s recent fate (as made known by his demand to play against South Carolina in spite of being injured, just because he knew Clemson needed that win badly), Watson also seems to be prepared to take the bull by the horns.
Too often we bother looking at statistics and metrics as signs. They aren’t. The measure of greatness at anything … CEO at a company, owner of your local Mom and Pop hardware store, college football player, or corner barber … usually has more to do with what cannot be measured than what can, and that resides in the innards of a person.
Whatever possesses or allows people to gain “it,” we’ll likely never know. It has to be a lot, from upbringing, to personal career strife, to desire to beat the odds, mixed with doing it as a leader.
Watson seems to carry those attributes with him when he packs his things up and heads out for the day. That will only bleed over to his teammates, who at times will need to be led to reach the promised land. For those that don’t know of him well, Deshaun Watson is one of the unique individual characters that could be the face of a college football season.
To others, he’s a guy that was born without much of a shot but figured out how to get one. To Clemson, he’s the team leader. Watson is a truly special talent. Where it all leads, I suppose that someone else’s book to write, primarily his. In terms of talent and leadership, however, don’t be remotely surprised if the train stops for a chapter break at Heisman (and maybe CFB Playoff) Station.