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Deshaun Watsons high school coaches say NFL teams that pass on him will regret it
Clemson's Deshaun Watson holds up the championship trophy after the College Football Playoff championship game against Alabama in January in Tampa, Fla. Clemson won 35-31. - photo by David J. Phillip

NFL Draft first round

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Philadelphia

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

Deshaun Watson by the numbers at Clemson

Passing yards: 10,163

Passing TDs: 90

Interceptions: 32

Rushing yards: 1,934

Rushing touchdowns: 26

Michael Perry plans to be in the stands for Deshaun Watson’s NFL debut. He’ll probably find out Thursday night what city that game will be in as Watson is likely to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Perry, who was quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for Watson’s final three seasons at Gainesville High School, has no doubts about how Watson will fare wherever he ends up.

“If any team bypasses on him, they are going to regret it. He will carry a chip with him also,” Perry said. “He’s going to outwork anybody. He’s going to change a franchise.”

Yet, according to those who follow the draft process closely, Watson’s vast accomplishments at Clemson don’t even have him pegged as the top quarterback in the draft.

Watson led Clemson to a national title and two ACC championships while twice finishing as a Heisman Trophy finalist in his three seasons with the Tigers.

He went toe to toe with an Alabama defense stocked with future pros two seasons in a row in the College Football Playoff title game, prevailing the second time around. Watson compiled a 32-3 record as a starter.

Even so, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is projected by most draft observers as the first quarterback who will be selected in the NFL Draft. Some projections also list Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II ahead of Watson.

Bruce Miller, who was Watson’s head coach at Gainesville, has nothing against Trubisky. But he pointed to the UNC quarterback’s 13 college starts.

“How can you make a comparison on that?” Miller said. “Deshaun plays in big games, and the bigger the stage is, the better he plays. And he is such a tremendous leader. I don’t understand, but I’m biased.”

Watson was a four-year starter for Miller’s Red Elephants, leading Gainesville to a state title as a junior in 2012 before enrolling in January 2014 at Clemson. He threw a touchdown pass on his sixth college play in the 2014 opener against Georgia in Athens, then took over as the starter midway through his freshman season with the Tigers.

Watson’s resilient nature in the midst of so many hard hits by Alabama in the national championship game caught Perry’s eye. Perry, now the head coach at Centennial High School in Roswell, said many college and NFL quarterbacks have a strong arm but don’t have the mental toughness to stand in the pocket and take hits.

Miller said the NFL scouts are missing the intangibles that make Watson so valuable.

“You can’t measure it,” Miller said. “You just have to see it to know he’s got it.”

Both Miller and Perry noted Watson’s ability to bring out the best in his teammates. Miller said Watson’s intelligence on the field stands out.

“The game of football slows down for him, just like with a good baseball hitter,” Miller said.

The Gainesville coach said Watson’s calm demeanor serves him well.

“I’ve never seen the kid get excited during the game,” Miller said.

Perry said he’s rooting for the Cleveland Browns to select Watson. Cleveland holds the first and 12th picks in the first round. Perry said pundits think no one can turn around the downtrodden franchise.

“Deshaun can do it,” Perry said. “He can win there.”

While Watson’s physical gifts are always on display, his former coaches say he’s a great person off the field, too. He has volunteered often with Habitat for Humanity, which provided his family a home during his childhood, and has drawn inspiration from his mother Deann through her battle with throat cancer.

Watson earned his college diploma in three years.

Perry said Watson has “shown you can come from a difficult situation and thrive.”

“You couldn’t ask for a better role model for any kid with any dream,” Perry said.

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