The award season as officially begun for Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The junior learned late Tuesday afternoon he is the 29th recipient of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which is presented annually by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation, Inc. Watson will receive the 2016 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award at a ceremony to be held on Friday at the Embassy Suites Baltimore Inner Harbor & The Grand in downtown Baltimore, Md.
“It is a real honor and pleasure to be able to win the Johnny Unitas Award,” Watson said during a teleconference call with the media on Tuesday. “Some of the best quarterbacks in the world have won this award so it is good to be able to bring that to Clemson. It is really an honor.”
It is named in honor of former NFL All-Pro Johnny Unitas, who led the Baltimore Colts to the 1958 NFL Championship and was a four-time recipient of the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.
By winning the Unitas Award, Watson has now achieved the “Triple Crown” of quarterback awards over his career. He won the Manning Award and the O’Brien Award last year. He is also a finalist for those two honors this year.
Past Golden Arm Award winners include: Peyton Manning (Tennessee, 1997); Carson Palmer (USC, 2002); Eli Manning (Ole Miss, 2003); Matt Ryan (Boston College, 2007); Colt McCoy (Texas, 2009); Andrew Luck (Stanford, 2011), Marcus Mariota (Oregon, 2014) and Connor Cook (Michigan State, 2015).
This is the second straight year Watson has won a national award for Clemson. Last year, he won the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback as well as the Manning Award, which is also given to the nation’s best quarterback. Watson was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy last year and will be in New York again as a finalist on Saturday.
Candidates for the Golden Arm Award – which has been presented at the end of each college football season since 1987 – must be college seniors or fourth-year juniors on schedule to graduate with their class. In addition to the accomplishments on the field, candidates are judged on their character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, and leadership qualities.
The native of Gainesville, Georgia, who will receive his undergraduate degree on Dec. 15, led Clemson to the ACC Championship last Saturday in a 42-35 victory over No. Virginia Tech. It was the second consecutive year Clemson has won the ACC title, the first time the program has done that in 28 years. He is the first Clemson quarterback to lead the Tigers to back-to-back conference crowns since Rodney Williams led Clemson to three straight league crowns from 1986-88.
Watson was 23-of-34 for 288 yards and three touchdowns, while adding a team-high 85 yards rushing on 17 carries to go with two scores. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the ACC Championship game for the second consecutive year.
For the season, Watson has completed 329 of 487 passes for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns. He ranks fourth in the nation in completions, fifth in touchdown passes and eighth in completion percentage and eighth in total offense. His 37 touchdown passes are a Clemson season-record.
Watson has finished strong, connecting on 138 of 186 passes for 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns over the last five games. That is a 74 percent completion percentage. He has had 20 touchdowns rushing and passing over those five games and averaged 356.8 total offense yards per game.
The Tigers rank second in the final College Football Playoff Poll and will face Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31. It is the second consecutive year Clemson has made the College Football Playoff.