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Football Player of the Year: Gainesville QB Deshaun Watson
Watson set state records in career passing yards, all-purpose TDs and passing TDs
Gainesville QB Deshaun Watson is The Times Football Player of the Year. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

All-Area Football Team

Area Coach of the Year: Gainesville's Bruce Miller

Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson always tries to have his priorities in order, and the scope of his day-to-day activities is not just limited to football, where he led the Red Elephants to the Class AAAAA state championship recently at the Georgia Dome.

Watson heeds the lessons instilled by this mother, Deann, and tries to remain humble, even though he’s well aware of his status as the state’s new leader in career passing yards (9,360), all-purpose touchdowns (155) and passing touchdowns (108).

This season, Watson became only the third 4,000-yard passer in state history and second to throw for 50 touchdowns in a single season.

No matter where Watson goes, he tries to keep things in perspective. He’s determined not to let football success go to his head.

“I’m going to stay the same low-key person I’ve always been,” Watson said. “I always try to smile when people talk to me and say ‘Yes sir, yes ma’am.’”

To his list of accomplishments, Watson can add back-to-back winner of The Times Football Player of the Year.

On the field, Watson is a fleet-footed quarterback with a rocket of a right arm and a near shoo-in to be named All State for the second straight year.

Away from football, he likes to step out of the limelight and spend time with his mom, who only months ago received a clean bill of health after a one-year battle with tongue cancer, older brother Detrick, and younger twin siblings, Tyreke and Tinisha, 13. When he has time, the family will go shopping, walk in the park and take in movies.

The star quarterback Watson also gets a kick out of taking his siblings to visit college campuses. Watson is verbally committed to Clemson University, and has remained that way since last February, but also has trips lined up to Louisiana State, Ohio State, Auburn, Florida State and Tennessee.

Watson has plenty of time to decide on a college choice when he’ll sign a National Letter of Intent as a senior in February 2014.

Gainesville coach Bruce Miller says that Watson is the best he’s coached in 40 years. Watson not only has all the physical capabilities and stats, but does it in a fast-paced, no-huddle spread offense.

Watson has started every game of his high school career, first playing against No. 1 Buford as a 14-year-old freshman in 2010.

Fast forward two years and a couple of months, Watson capped his sterling five-game showing in the 2012 postseason with 1,988 combined yards of total offense and 27 combined touchdowns passing and running.

His best night came with 427 passing yards and another 145 rushing in the state quarterfinals against Harris County.

“I don’t think anyone could have pictured what Deshaun’s done to this point in his career,” Miller said. “Our tendencies as humans is to put limits on what can be done.

“I hope he hasn’t hit his limit yet.”

One of his best throws this season came when Watson threw a 17-yard touchdown pass between tight coverage to his receiver Caleb Hayman in the end zone early in the state championship game. Even though Watson likes to share the credit for his success, he knows it’s his job to be a leader.

This season, Watson didn’t have just one go-to receiver, instead completing at least 30 passes to six different players.

“I know if I’m not going, then the offense is not going,” Watson said. “I always want to take care of my responsibilities.”

Watson always has freedom to make changes at the line of scrimmage. Rarely does he make a mistake. In 434 pass attempts this season, Watson threw only eight interceptions.

“The best thing Deshaun has is his ability to understand the game,” said Miller, who describes his relationship with the quarterback as that of a father and son. “Things have just slowed down for Deshaun at this point.

“It’s like a hitter when he’s in the zone, and the ball looks that much bigger coming out of the pitcher’s hand.”

Watson says that the three football players he admires most are all professional quarterbacks: Tom Brady for his Super Bowl titles and competitive edge, Peyton Manning for his pocket-passing skills, and Tim Tebow for his faith and positive outreach.

Faith is also a big part of Watson’s life. He attends two different church congregations, hands out meals at homeless shelters and serves as a mentor to children through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County.

Watson also has a football-related job, working for the second season as a ball boy for the Atlanta Falcons during home games, along with part-time work at the franchise’s South Hall training complex during training camp.

Watson will also certainly be certain to appear at numerous high school showcases before his high school career ends. On Dec. 31, Gainesville’s quarterback will play in the AT&T Georgia Junior Bowl at Grady High in Atlanta.

However, not every chapter of his life has been easy to endure. When Deann Watson, a single mother of four, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, it shook Watson hard. She was unable to attend any of his football games his sophomore season, instead having to listen to the live broadcast on the radio.

Still, he remembers the text message she would send every night before the game, which instantly put a big smile on his face.

“She was unable to talk at all during my sophomore season,” Watson recalls.

It also made him play that much harder knowing that, in turn, it would make his mother feel better.

Watson says his mother finally got a clean bill of health in the summer of 2012. She was also able to be right in the stands this season to see all his amazing feats for the Red Elephants.

Now Gainesville’s quarterback aims to keep working for his mother and bring home another state championship in 2013.

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