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Gainesville's Watson signs with Clemson, Stringer with Appalachian State

Both players will early enroll in January

POSTED: November 14, 2013 6:37 p.m.
Donna Miller | For The Times/

Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson, the state's all-time leader in passer, signs his financial aid form to Clemson University on Thursday morning at Gainesville High School. Watson and the Red Elephants host M.L. King in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs tonight at City Park Stadium.

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Deshaun Watson was glad to get Thursday morning behind him. Gainesville’s starting quarterback, and the state’s all-time leading passer, was finally able to sign a financial aid award letter with Clemson University, officially making him a Tiger.

The longtime Clemson commit can now focus on winning a second straight Class AAAAA state championship with the Red Elephants, which host M.L. King tonight at City Park Stadium in the opening round of the postseason.

“It is very great that I get it out of the way and I can focus on this last playoff run I have with my teammates,” Watson said.

Watson signed, along with linebacker and Appalachian State signee Devan Stringer, in front of a packed lobby at Gainesville High School on Thursday. It was a moment often seen on national signing day in February.

But, both Watson and Stringer are set to graduate in December and will enroll at their respective universities in January, allowing them to participate in spring practice with their new college programs.

“It is always fun to see it finally solidified,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “The way the thing works now, is that pretty much ties them to Clemson or Appalachian State.

“It says a lot for them because they took care of the academics. That comes from a lot of parent pressure to take care of that and they’ve both taken care of the job in the classroom.

"They’ve taken the SAT and the ACT and made the score they needed. All that’s done, now they can think about us playing in the playoffs.”

That ability to take care of the academics along with playing football at a high level is something both players have been to able to use as a leadership tool when talking with younger players on the team.

“We want to set the right expectations and set them high,” Stringer said. “That is the biggest thing for us, to be great role models to everyone that looks up to us.”

Thursday’s signings were moments filled with joy for both Red Elephant leaders. They have been committed to their college programs for quite some time; Watson committed to Clemson prior to his junior season and Stringer committed to Appalachian State in June.

Neither player gave much thought about going anywhere else, either.

Watson took just one recruiting visit to another school. Following his visit to Auburn over the summer, he called the Clemson coaches to apologize. It was a trip that solidified his choice in Clemson.

“I wanted to make sure Clemson was the place for me,” said Watson, who noted he spoke with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney just before signing his letter on Thursday.

“I feel good and I knew Clemson was the spot.”

Staying committed and not getting caught up in the tiring recruiting process has allowed both players to focus on their senior season with Gainesville. It’s a season that saw the Red Elephants finish with a 9-1 overall record and win the Region 8-AAAAA championship.

“They’ve been able to really focus on their high school careers,” Miller said. “Deshaun and Devan have been so focused all year and have been such a critical part of the team.

“I was talking to the coach (Mickey Conn) at Grayson back in the summer and he said some of their guys didn’t make up their minds until right before signing day (last year) and it just causes a bunch of upheaval. The coaches are still coming in and talking to you. It is a lot of distraction, if you let it be.”

Watson has thrown for more than 12,000 yards in his career at Gainesville and once he enrolls at Clemson he will immediately have pressure to become the Tigers’ next starting quarterback, replacing four-year starter and All-American Tajh Boyd.

Watson has built a friendship with Boyd, one that has allowed him to gain some insight on what it will take to be the next starter at Clemson.

“(Tajh) explained what (quarterbacks) Coach (Chad) Morris needs and what they look for in the quarterback and what big role I’m going to have to play if I want that job,” Watson said.

If he wins the starting job at Clemson, his first collegiate start will be made inside Sanford Stadium against the Georgia Bulldogs next September.

“I’ll enjoy the fans,” Watson said. “A lot of people from (Gainesville) are going to Georgia or are attending Georgia already. But they say they are going to support me, either playing against them or with them. Even if I don’t start, it is going to be kind of crazy and nerve-racking at first, when I step on that sideline.”

For Stringer, he earned his scholarship to Appalachian State after helping anchor a Red Elephant defense that allowed an average of just 19.2 points per playoff game a year ago and one that’s held six opponents to 10 or less points this season.

Once in college, Stringer will join a Mountaineers program that won three straight FCS championships in the mid-2000’s and will be moving to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.

“Once I committed to App State, that’s where I knew I wanted to go,” Stringer said. “I knew I wasn’t even going to visit anywhere else. I love it up there. It is a great atmosphere.”

The two football signings on Thursday capped off a productive week for Gainesville student-athletes heading to college. On Wednesday, six student-athletes signed college scholarships, four from baseball and two from golf.


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