Gainesville High football coach Bruce Miller sat in his office Thursday afternoon, hoping the initial report of Deshaun Watson’s knee injury would turn out to be false.
His former quarterback, now a rookie superstar for the Houston Texans, was feared to have suffered a torn right ACL in practice. But further reports confirmed the team’s suspicions and that Watson will undergo season-ending surgery.
“It just breaks my heart for him,” Miller said. “I know how hard he has worked to get to where he is. But knowing him, he’ll get over the initial disappointment and work and get back and being stronger than before.”
He has seen Watson do it before.
The rookie sensation suffered a knee injury late in his final high school game, a 20-14 loss to Tucker in the 2013 Class 5A state semifinals. A year after leading Gainesville to the state championship, Watson was determined to do it again.
“He went off the field and doctors braced him,” Miller recalled. “Next you thing you know, he’s walking up to me and saying, ‘I’m ready to go.’”
Miller said Watson’s knee injury wasn’t as serious as the one he suffered Thursday, though he did experience a similar setback at Clemson. The Gainesville native tore his left ACL in the final month of his freshman season but played through the injury, scoring four total touchdowns to help the Tigers beat rival South Carolina.
Following surgery, Watson got even better in 2015 and 2016. He led Clemson to back-to-back College Football Playoff championship games — including a national title last season — while finishing as a Heisman Trophy finalist both years.
And before Thursday, Watson was strongly in contention for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award after setting several rookie records through just seven games.
The 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Watson was tied for the league lead in passing touchdowns (19) despite being named the Texans’ starter in Week 2. Houston looked like a playoff contender with the Gainesville High grad under center, and earlier Thursday he was even named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month.
“What he was doing was remarkable. He was just tearing it up,” Miller said. “I’m still so proud and happy for him.”