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Football Player of the Year: Gainesville's Deshaun Watson

POSTED: January 4, 2014 8:23 p.m.
Scott Rogers | The Times/

Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson releases a pass during the Red Elephants' win over South Paulding High at City Park Field in November 2013.

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Deshaun Watson will begin the next phase of adulthood today, when he moves away from his home for the first time and settles into life as a student at Clemson University.

But before he traded in his red and black Red Elephant gear for the Orange and Purple of Clemson, Watson was able to sit back and take a moment to reflect on the past four years.

He summarized it with one word. Amazing.

It was a four-year stretch that sprung Watson into the national limelight and a time where he become one of the greatest high school football players to ever call the state of Georgia home.

“I use that word because of all the things that I’ve had the chance to accomplish,” Watson said. “And all the great people and fans and all the kids that I’ve met, and just seeing the community come together the past four years has been great.”

Watson capped off his historic four-year run as Gainesville’s quarterback with more passing yards (13,135), passing touchdowns (155) and all-purpose touchdowns (218) than any player in state history.

He once again dazzled the fans in 2013 with his electrifying play, from his strong arm to his ability to tuck the ball down and run past the opposing defense. He finished the year with 3,775 yards passing, 1,057 yards rushing, 20 yards receiving and 63 total touchdowns.

Basically, Deshaun was being Deshaun.

On most nights, it was clear the 6-foot-3 Watson was the best player on the field. Maybe it was his breakaway runs, his leaps over defenders or his innate ability to find the open receiver. Whatever it was, Watson forever changed the quarterback position at Gainesville.

For all that he has accomplished — this season and in his career — Watson has now earned the honor of a three-time winner as The Times Football Player of the Year.

The recipient of Player of the Year adds to what is an already decorated honor list for Watson.

It’s a list that includes being named the Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year and the Class AAAAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2013, to go along with his All-Classification Player of the Year last season, and his 2011 Class AAA Player of the Year award.

Despite all the awards, Watson said as he walks away from Gainesville, there will be a few things he remembers most.

“All the records I’ve broken, all the games I’ve won with all my teammates and all the team awards and accomplishments we’ve done, and all the joy and spirit we’ve brought back to the community of Gainesville,” Watson said.

Through all the victories, records and accolades, Watson has managed to hold tight to his roots of staying humble, a quality instilled in him by his mother, DeAnn, while also displaying a worth-ethic that sets him apart from most players his age.

A preparation level more commonly associated with players at the college level, Watson dedicated himself to studying film and his opponents, rather than hanging out with friends and worrying about a prom date.

“First of all, Deshaun is just a great kid,” said Gainesville quarterback coach Michael Perry. “I don’t know if people understand how much he puts into it, in relation to preparation. There is no telling how many hours he put in.

“Most high school boys, they are not going to do that. But he was willing to go above and beyond.”

After starting his senior season with a big four-touchdown performance in a 58-28 win over West Forsyth, Watson and the Red Elephants struggled against eventual Class AAA state champion Buford — their only regular season loss of the year.

Following the 38-14 loss to the Wolves, Watson returned to his normal, near super-human form, electrifying Region 8-AAAAA and leading Gainesville to eight straight wins to close out the regular season, including a 55-45 win over rival Flowery Branch.

Despite being pulled early in the third quarter of most games because of a blowout score, Watson was able to stay sharp, always preparing himself for what lay ahead in the postseason.

In his final playoff run of his career, Watson did everything he could to engineer another magical run toward a state championship for Gainesville, just like he did the previous season.

Unfortunately for the Red Elephants, it was a run that came to a screeching halt in the state semifinals. Watson’s prolific career was over with a disappointing 20-14 loss to top-ranked Tucker.

A symbol for staying healthy and not shying away from contact, Watson suffered the most significant injury of his high school playing career in the loss to Tucker — an MCL sprain in his left knee.

While it was an injury that didn’t allow him to compete in the Under Armour All-American game on Thursday in St. Petersburg, Fla., it won’t be one that will cost him spring practice with Clemson.

“Think about how easy it is for a kid who has a big-time scholarship offer with a great chance to go and start right away, how many kids would just tap out in that situation?” said Perry. “Or he could have said, ‘this is awful. It’s raining, we’re behind.’

“He could have thrown in the towel, but he never did. There are so many times he took hits and everything, and I can never remember a time where he complained or blamed someone else for missing a block. That’s just not him.”

As Watson moves on in his football career, he leaves behind a Gainesville program that is looking to fill the void a four-year starter who was the catalyst for the Red Elephants.

It’s a feat that won’t be easy for whomever is tabbed as the next starting quarterback of the Big Red.

“Like I told somebody the other day, when (Deshaun) graduated, ‘There goes 17,000 (career) yards of offense walking out the door,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said last week, after Watson earned all-state honors.

“It is just hard to believe one kid can amass that much offense in one high school career.”


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