NEW ORLEANS — Clemson quarterback and Gainesville High graduate Deshaun Watson wasn’t expecting any revelations about what he could have done differently to lead the Tigers to a national championship last season.
He came pretty close, after all, and put up extraordinary numbers. So as Watson arrived at a ceremony in the Superdome to formally accept the Manning Award on Tuesday night, he said he’s spending this offseason re-watching games from last season — including the national championship game loss to Alabama — and focusing on the details.
“It’s really the small things — not so much the big things that everyone else sees,” Watson said. “Put your eye placement in the right direction, or your feet in the right direction, or your hand placement. … Just little tiny things I’ve got to focus on to make sure we correct this year.
“I’m the type of person that always strives to be great,” Watson added. “I’m not great just yet. There’s a lot more of the game and the techniques and fundamentals and mechanics that I have to improve on, so I’m working to be great one day.”
His production from last season would indicate he’s not far off from greatness — at least at the college level.
Watson finished last season with 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns passing. He also rushed for 1,105 yards and 12 additional scores. That made him the first player in the history of the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision with more than 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. He accounted for 478 yards and four touchdowns in Clemson’s 45-40 loss to Alabama and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
The Manning Award is given to the top college quarterback each season. Unlike most other college football awards, it is not decided until after all of the bowl games have been played.
The Sugar Bowl sponsors the award, named for former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning and his sons, Peyton and Eli, who have each had distinguished college and NFL careers as quarterbacks.
Archie Manning said he found Watson’s all-around athleticism and composure on the field extraordinary when he watched his games and came away even more impressed after speaking with the Clemson quarterback, who’ll be a junior this coming season and likely a top pro prospect heading into the 2017 NFL draft.
“He seems to be kind of a sponge, wants to get better, wants to improve his game, wants to do things the right way. I think that’s commendable,” Manning said. “That’s the sign of a great player, too, who kind of recognizes his weaknesses and wants to work on them. I’m sure that’s what he’s trying to do … but he sure has a good handle on things.”
This summer, Watson will be loading up on summer classes as he remains on track to graduate in three years. Watson sees his course load as a benefit to him as a football player, even as some question whether he’s wearing himself out.
“For me, to be successful, I’ve always had to be busy,” Watson said. “I don’t like sitting around and not doing anything because that’s the easiest way to get complacent and get lazy.”
Watson also is scheduled to attend the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux this summer, where he’ll not only serve as an instructor but also have a chance to work on his own game with the Mannings.
Watson said that refining his skills as a passing QB doesn’t mean he’ll run any less.
“Whatever they call, I’m good at both,” Watson said with a smile. “The 4,000-1,000 (last season) wasn’t a shocker for me or anybody on the coaching staff. They knew that I could do that.”
And while Watson lists his primary goal as bringing Clemson a national title, he isn’t shy about saying he’d like to be invited back to New York for the awarding of the Heisman Trophy — and win it this time.
“Of course, I want to hold that trophy up,” Watson said. “It’s always been a dream and a goal, but I’m focusing on the team right now and everything else will take care of itself.”