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Football Player of the Year: Gainesville's Deshaun Watson
Gainesville High quarterback Deshaun Watson jogs off the field after a Red Elephants touchdown during the team’s win over North Hall at City Park Stadium earlier this year. Watson led Gainesville to the state semifinals, accounting for 57 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards of offense. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Times Football Coach of the Year: Banks County's Philip Jones

All-Area Football Teams

Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson is highly motivated and intensely focused on becoming the best football player possible. And the physical talent of the Red Elephants’ sophomore quarterback displayed in 2011 was off the charts.

Watson, a two-year starter, broke Hall County records for yards in a single season (4,324) and touchdowns in a season with 57 (41 passing, 16 rushing).

Most exciting for those in the Big Red camp is that Watson just turned 16 

during the football season and still has two years left as the school makes the jump to Class AAAAA next season.

However, painting the picture of this uber-talented signal caller isn’t complete without talking about a player that spends endless hours in the film room learning every aspect of the game. He’s so advanced in his grip on the playbook and terminology that Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller considers Watson, “an offensive coordinator on the field.”

And for his efforts, Watson is the Times Area Football Player of the Year.

“I’m just glad I have him for two more seasons and there’s no rule in high school football that allows them to leave a year early,” Miller said about his electrifying young quarterback. Watson is already a very highly recruited quarterback for the Class of 2014 and will likely have an endless list of schools from which to choose.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Watson’s season had a huge impact on Gainesville this year as it won its fourth consecutive region championship and rode a wave of momentum all the way to the state semifinals, before falling to the eventual Class AAA state champion, Burke County.

From beginning to end this year, the Red Elephants’ quarterback never ceased to amaze with his ability to keep opposing defenses on their toes with the touch of his passes — whether a short crossing route or a 60-yard spiral — he was more often than not right on target.

“Since I’m the quarterback, I knew I was going to have to be a leader for the team on and off the field,” Watson said. “And I’m always hungry to get better.”

When he says he’s hungry to get better, that may be the most troublesome thing for opposing teams to hear.

This year, Watson had seven touchdowns in a single game twice. And he excels at all areas of the game. He passed for 3,251 yards, but kept everyone honest with his ability to take off and run. He topped 1,000 rushing yards with his performance in the state semifinal game against Burke County.

“The fact that he’s a sophomore is still hard for me to believe,” Miller said. “He’s already accomplished so much in his high school career.”

In Watson’s mind, the stats are nice. But he really enjoyed watching his team rally together to upset 2010 state champion Sandy Creek in the state quarterfinal round at City Park Stadium.

The icing on the cake for Watson that night was when Gainesville’s offense was able to drive the ball down the field on its final drive and put up a score to put the game away.

He knew that an extended stay in the playoffs was something fans around the area didn’t expect of Gainesville this season.

“When we made it into the playoffs, nobody expected us to make it far,” Watson said. “And then we made the third round and fourth round.

“That’s what was most fun for me is to see all my teammates getting fired up and working together.”

Miller said that sounds just like something Watson would say.

“With Deshaun, it’s never about Deshaun,” Miller said. “He wants to help the team become as good as it can be.”

Even though Gainesville started the year with a loss to Buford, Watson said he saw everything change in terms confidence and momentum the following week with a 40-3 win against White County in Gainesville. Miller also saw a great character trait come out again for Watson.

“We’d called a play at the 2 for Deshaun to run it in for the score,” Miller said. “And he changed the play at the line of scrimmage and let our running back (Jay Gaudlock) run it since he had scored a touchdown.”

That’s another trait that Watson has on the field: He can change a play at the line of scrimmage with his understanding of the game and ability to read a defense, Miller said.

Watson’s sterling athletic ability extends beyond the football field. He’s a star for the Red Elephants basketball program and a solid high jumper on the track and field team. He’s also an avid angler and looking to improve his fishing skills every time he gets out on Lake Lanier.

“He could probably pick up a set of clubs and be a great golfer too,” Miller said.

With two years remaining in the program, Miller hopes that the best is yet unwritten about Watson’s high school legacy. If so, it’s going to mean lots of football success for the next two years for the Big Red.


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