Before he boarded a plane to head to Philadelphia, Pa., joining Deshaun Watson to kickoff today’s 2017 NFL Draft, Dabo Swinney sent Watson a picture that shows him celebrating a state championship with his teammates at Gainesville High School in Georgia, as well as a national championship with his teammates at Clemson.
Then Swinney added a message at the bottom which reads, “Soon to be you are going to have another championship team to add to this picture.”
“I’m just excited to see where he is going,” the Clemson head coach said.
Watson, arguably the greatest player to have ever put on a Clemson uniform, should find out soon enough as he is expected by many draft experts to be selected in the first-round of tonight’s draft which starts at 8 p.m. It will be a special moment for Swinney to watch Watson walk across that stage and receive his No. 1 jersey from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“You always have a special relationship with your players, but especially your quarterback,” Swinney said.
When Deshaun Watson was your quarterback, it is even more special. Swinney’s relationship with Watson really kicked off on national signing day in 2012 when Watson was still a sophomore in Gainesville.
With the media gathered in the team meeting room waiting for Swinney to come and speak about the 2012 recruiting class, all the coaches and staff gathered around Swinney’s phone in his office as Watson gave his commitment to play football at Clemson.
The media could hear the roar and excitement coming from Swinney’s office once Watson made his surprise announcement. Swinney knew then, even though Watson was still just a skinny kid with two years left to go in high school that Clemson just landed perhaps the best player in Clemson history.
Swinney believed so much in Watson, he even asked Steve Fuller, the greatest quarterback to have ever played at Clemson to that point, if he would give them permission to bring his jersey out of retirement so Watson could wear it.
Swinney promised Fuller that not only would they recognize him on the jersey, but Watson would honor and respect what that number means to Clemson fans everywhere with his play on the field as well as how he handled himself off the field.
On the field, Watson guided Clemson to two national championship game appearances and the program’s first national championship in 35 years this past season. Off the field, Watson earned his college degree in three seasons.
“The quarterback and the head coach, there has to be a ton of respect,” Swinney said. “That’s the way it has to be and it certainly has been that way.”
Watson was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist in his three seasons at Clemson. He finished third in the 2015 balloting with 148 first-place votes and second in 2016 with 269 first-place votes. He was the first ACC player to finish in the top three of the voting on multiple occasions.
Watson was also a two-time recipient of the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback, one of only four quarterbacks who can make that claim, and the first since Oklahoma’s Jason White in 2003 and 2004. He was also a two-time winner of the Manning Award, the first ever, and compiled a 32-3 record as a starter, the best winning percentage in school history for a quarterback.
His 32 wins tied former Tiger greats Rodney Williams and Tajh Boyd with wins as a starter, a mark he tied in the national championship win over Alabama.
Watson was third in ACC history in total offense (12,094), behind only NC State’s Philip Rivers and Boyd. He threw for 10,163 yards and 90 career touchdowns. He is first in Clemson history in career completion percentage (.674), passing efficiency (157.5) and total offense per game (318.3).
In his career in the fourth quarter, Watson passed for 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions as well as believed to be the first quarterback in FBS history to pass at least 37 hours and throw 35 or more touchdown passes in the same academic year (2015-16).
Watson was a two-time team MVP, was the MVP of three bowl games, including the 2017 National Championship Game, was the 2015 ACC Player of the Year. He was also a two-time First-Team All-American and was a two-time All-ACC Academic Team (2015,16) selection.
Now he has the opportunity to be the first quarterback at Clemson to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft since Steve Fuller went No. 23 overall in the 1979 NFL Draft.
“I’m just happy for him. It is a culmination of hard work, it really is,” Swinney said. “It is a great moment. Deshaun is such a team player. This is a great individual accomplishment and an individual moment. I’m blessed to be able to be a part of this and experience this with him. I just can’t wait to see that.”
Watson ended his Clemson career the same way he began it … by sending the Clemson coaches into a roar of celebration. The last pass of his Clemson career was a two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second to play to win the national championship.
“He will be the first one to thank everyone that helped him get here, that’s for sure,” Swinney said. “This guy has put in the work and has done it the right way. I’m just excited for him. I can’t wait.”