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Football Player of the Week: Gainesville's Deshaun Watson

Red Elephants quarterback beat Cedar Shoals defense with arm and legs

POSTED: October 7, 2013 8:45 p.m.

Deshaun Watson has captivated the Georgia high school football community through incredible performances that have made him the state’s all-time passing leader.

The Gainesville quarterback boosted his career total above 11,000 passing yards Friday night, just three weeks after he became the first player in the history of the state to reach the 10,000-yard mark.

What’s often overlooked is the senior’s running ability, but he made sure at least Cedar Shoals was reminded of what he can do with his feet.

Midway through the first quarter of the Red Elephants’ 51-6 win over the Jaguars on Friday, Watson burst out of the pocket and danced around defenders, broke five tackles and sped his way across the width of the field before outrunning his final opponent and diving into the corner of the end zone for a dazzling 63-yard touchdown run.

Watson’s 23-of-28 passing performance for 289 yards and four touchdowns was a relatively typical night through the air by his standards, but the highlight-reel run perfectly demonstrated his incredible mobility outside the pocket. For his efforts, he is The Times Football Player of the Week.

“At the beginning of the play we were trying to set up a fast screen and spread the defense out, so we had man (coverage) all cross the board,” Watson said. “When I see that and I see the box off, I call a draw play for me.

“I just happened to break loose and make a play, and my teammates helped me out downfield with blocking, and I ended up getting into the end zone.”

With his team up by three scores after the play, Watson returned to the sideline short of breath after the incredible haul.

Gainesville coach Bruce Miller was just as captivated by the play from the sideline.

“He came to sideline breathing really hard, and I said, ‘we need to get you in shape if you’re going to be making runs like this very often,”’ Miller said. “But you just kind of come to expect those kind of things from him.

“When he does them, they’re pretty incredible.”

Especially since the Red Elephants (5-1, 4-0 Region 8-AAAAA) have put a damper on Watson’s running plays this season to keep him from getting hurt. He has 286 yards on 38 carries through six games.

The Clemson commit and nationally-recognized quarterback rushed for 1,441 yards and scored 24 times to go along with his 4,024 passing yards last season, so his running ability is hardly a secret.

But that doesn’t make him any easier to stop.

“We haven’t run him that much this year, but pretty soon here but we’re going to have to take wraps off of him and let him run,” Miller said. “We’ve tried to protect him, but there’s only so much you can do, and with him running it makes our offense doubly hard to stop.”

After four years of troubling defenses with both his arm and his legs, Watson is free to run Gainesville’s offense how he pleases.

With Peyton Manning-like authority on the field, Watson often calls his own plays. Hours upon hours of film study has given him the ability to change the offense around him if he doesn’t like what the defense gives him.

“I have the freedom to put us in position to have the best play or the possibility to score on that drive,” Watson said. “They gave me the keys, and I can basically do whatever I want with it, but I also listen to the coaches and whatever they want to run. I stick with it.”

The touchdown run was in fact called for Watson, rather than a decision made by the quarterback himself. Not that it mattered once he was in the end zone.

Should he continue to burst for big scoring runs such as Friday’s — he has four rushing touchdowns this season — Miller may consider removing all restraints from his quarterback, and let Watson use his athleticism as much as warranted.

“He’s special,” Miller said. “I’m glad he’s on our own team, for sure. I’d hate to have to stop him.”

This time next year, it could be ACC defenses trying to slow him down.

All but a lock to be on the Clemson roster in 2014, Watson is already being touted as the successor to current Tigers starter Tajh Boyd, who is expected to be a first-round draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

That means that his first-ever start as college quarterback could be in the raucous confines of Sanford Stadium, when Clemson opens next season at Georgia.

“Those are things I’ve dreamed for since I was a little kid — playing in a stadium like that,” Watson said. “I have an opportunity to start for a big-time program in Clemson against Georgia, another big-time program from my home state. It’ll be nerve-racking throughout the week, but I think I can handle it.”

It’s a giant jump from his comfortable environment at City Park Stadium, but Miller says the 6-foot-3, 200-pound standout is more than ready.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him starting between the hedges next year for the Clemson-Georgia game,” Miller said. “With his frame, there’s so much he can do with it. It’ll be fun to watch when they govern what he eats and when he sleeps.

“He is one of these that he understands that has to be done. All you have to do is talk to Deshaun and it’s done.”

That includes telling Watson to make plays when the situation calls for it, such as he did last Friday.

It’s an ability that could take his football career far, and his team as well. With a four-game winning streak at hand and a perfect region record, Gainesville is counting on him to keep defenders stumped on how to stop the Red Elephants’ high-powered offense.

“I feel comfortable about our team. We’re getting better every week, but we have a lot of stuff we have to improve on,” Watson said. “We’re getting better every week, and we just have to get to the point that we’re consistent on every drive on both sides of the ball.”


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