CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson says he is ready for whatever comes his way.
The same might not be true of the 12th-ranked Tigers, whose selection as Atlantic Coast Conference favorites is contingent of Watson behind center.
Watson could be starting a transcendent, Heisman Trophy-winning season when Clemson opens against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Wofford on Saturday. Or it could be a matter of time before Watson is again the injured star on the sidelines, TV cameras catching him in street clothes as the Tigers struggle to overcome his loss.
That is not in Watson’s mind heading into the first game.
“I want to play the best I can play and help my team,” Watson said. “I don’t want to leave any regrets out there.”
There were plenty of “what ifs” in Watson’s first season.
He threw for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns over eight games. However, he missed five contests, all after earning the starting job in mid-September, because of injuries to his right, throwing hand and left knee. Watson needed surgery in December to repair his ACL, but Clemson officials say he has rehabbed better than the team could have hoped.
Watson said he will not put pressure on himself to pile up numbers with the thought of Heisman in his mind.
“It’s a game I love to play and I’ve put in so much work and time just to go out there for 12 Saturdays,” he said.
Having Watson on the field each game is something Clemson can’t wait to see after a debut season marked by injuries.
Watson cracked his collarbone in the spring of 2014 after enrolling in January, forced to sit out that year’s spring game when he was a focal point of the fans. He had won the starting job in mid-September and started strong against Louisville before the hand injury and did not play for another month.
Watson was back against Georgia Tech and was driving the Tigers to an early score when his knee buckled and he did not return. The Yellow Jackets went on a 28-6 victory.
Watson returned two games later for Clemson’s rivalry matchup against South Carolina, which carried a five-game win streak into Death Valley last November.
Playing with a knee brace and a torn ACL — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney only revealed the extent of Watson’s injury after the game — Watson accounted for four touchdowns and 282 yards in the 35-17 victory.
This weekend marks Watson’s first time playing since then.
Swinney said Watson has performed well throughout the offseason and in fall camp. He discounts the notion Watson is too brittle to last a full season.
Swinney points out that former quarterback Tajh Boyd came to Clemson needing knee surgery, then did not miss a start for three seasons.
“It’s a little early to label this guy as injury prone,” Swinney said of Watson. “He’s had one season.”
And it was enough of one to raise his profile among potential Heisman candidates. Swinney said he has not had to have the calming talk with Watson where coach reminds star quarterback to keep his head about him as others sing his praises.
“He’s not in a cave and he knows and he hears all these things,” said Swinney, starting his seventh full season at Clemson. “But this young man’s been dealing with this stuff forever and he’s just always been focused and just has great demeanor to him and a poise that’s just rare.”
Watson is not concerned about the outsiders, both positive and negative. He understands his job is to play winning football, whether or not he’s at the center of Clemson’s success.
“Only thing I really want to do is go undefeated,” he said. “I really don’t focus on the stats and accolades, as long as we get the W.”