There was never any doubt that Deshaun Watson would be ready for the occasion. Playing on the state’s biggest stage made him an even better leader as he guided the Red Elephants to the Class AAAAA state championship on Friday in Atlanta.
It takes more than one player to win it all. Never has a quarterback solely won anything on his own.
But Watson has a poise and presence that lends itself to championships. He’s cool under pressure, throws a pass with almost flawless precision and will take off with the ball when the need arises.
As far as high school players go, he’s the total package. Now, as the first state championship quarterback in school history, he is also the pride of an entire community.
“Deshaun’s probably the best high school player in the state, maybe the entire nation,” Gainesville linebacker Devan Stringer said.
His final outing of the season saw Watson complete 27 of 35 passes for 304 yards.
The Red Elephants’ junior quarterback gave one of the best performances of his high school career against a Gator team that earned its trip to Atlanta with a gutsy defense. It was just no match against Watson’s golden arm.
Watson set the new state career passing record, breaking a record that Zack Stanford of Metter owned for eight years, with a 10-yard pass to Tray Harrison in the first quarter.
But he wasn’t done with checking off an individual goal. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more as Gainesville became Hall County’s first state champion in the Georgia High School Association.
Watson’s best pass of the night came on a rollout when he squeezed a 17-yard pass through a tight window to wide receiver Caleb Hayman for the first score.
What is equally impressive as his on-the-field accomplishments is the fact that Watson is the same even-keeled kid that took over the starting quarterback job in 2010. That was pressure. He stepped into the role held by All-State player Blake Sims, who guided Gainesville to the Georgia Dome during his senior season.
In his first season, Watson guided Gainesville to a region championship. As a sophomore, he took the Big Red to the state semifinals in Class AAA. Now, he’s won the ultimate prize in the state’s second-biggest classification.
It’s hard to improve on that, right? Well, not exactly. Watson will be back again in 2013 at Gainesville. He’ll certainly want to bring home another state trophy.
That doesn’t surprise Gainesville coach Bruce Miller, who had no hesitations putting Watson on the field in 2010. Now that decision has paid off as well as he could have expected.
What’s most comforting is the fact that Watson doesn’t let his success make him feel like he’s got a free pass to live by a different standard. He’s a humble kid who doesn’t put his own accomplishments above the aspirations of the team. Friday’s state championship was another stellar example of that with his comments after the win.
“This victory means so much to our entire community,” Watson said. “I just wanted to make everybody in Gainesville proud.”
“I’ve known Deshaun since he was 8 and he’s never changed,” senior lineman Chase England said. “He’s the most humble person I’ve ever met.”
Watson is already a prime target of countless Division I programs across the country. By the time it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the most recruited and most heralded athlete to come out of Hall County.
It’s a title he’s well earned. And one he’ll never take for granted.
It’s truly one of the feel-good stories in high school sports.