I have covered my share of preseason games in my career as a sportswriter, and let me tell you, they seldom are interesting.
We cover them because we have to, but no one cares about the outcome. These games are generally more about the second- and third-team guys more than anything else, which serves its purpose and gives us—the media and the fans—something to play off of at least.
However, tonight’s Houston at Carolina preseason opener in Charlotte, N.C., for both teams is perhaps the most intriguing preseason game in the history of both rather young franchises. I guess the interest is more regionally in both television markets than it is nationally.
In Houston, everyone is anxious to watch the Texans’ first-round draft choice, and No. 12 overall pick, Deshaun Watson in his NFL debut. Of course back in Charlotte the fans at Bank of America Stadium and on local television will also be interested to watch Watson, but for an entirely different reason.
Watson is coming home, sort of, and thousands and thousands of Clemson fans are expected to pack Bank of America Stadium to watch their hero return home. The last time Tiger fans got to watch Watson play, he led their beloved Tigers 68-yards in the final two minutes to beat mighty Alabama and win Clemson its first national championship since 1981.
Now the protocol son returns home and fans can’t wait to see him in action.
But the anticipation does not end there. Other heroes from last year’s title run will also play in tonight’s game, including local kid Ben Boulware, who is pushing hard to make the Panthers’ ball club at linebacker. Clemson fans have been packing the Panthers’ training facility in Spartanburg to get a glimpse of the former Tiger All-American.
Besides Watson, the Texans have four more former Tigers on their roster. Carlos Watkins, who Houston drafted in the fourth round this past April, should see some playing time on the defensive line. His former Clemson teammate, D.J. Reader, a fifth-round pick in 2016, will also be playing on the defensive line.
Former Tiger defensive back Marcus Gilchrist, who is now in his seventh year in the league, will be in the Texans’ secondary, while fans are hoping All-Pro wide receiver Deandre Hopkins will at least catch one pass or two from Watson before he exits the game in the first or second quarter.
No one knows how long Houston coach Bill O’Brien will play Watson tonight, but fans hope it is long enough to see him go against his friend Boulware. The two have already exchanged some words through the media if they get that opportunity to play each other.
“It has been all good,” Watson said recently. “We probably will not talk any trash until we actually step on the field. It is going to be all love off the field and we wish each other the best.”
However, after three years of not being tackled in practice at Clemson, Watson knows Boulware will be anxious to get a shot or two at his former quarterback.
“He will be, but it is all good,” Watson said with a laugh. “I will just slide the protection to him.”
As for Boulware, he said he is going “All In” if he gets the opportunity to hit his good friend. At Clemson he said if he even breathed on Watson, head coach Dabo Swinney “would pull your scholarship.”
“If that opportunity presents itself, I will be super pumped about it,” Boulware said this past week to the Carolina media. “Hopefully, I can get a hit on him, but I don’t think we will be in at the same time in the game.
“I’m being honest. It will be cool, but I’m trying to keep it real.”
However, Boulware says he will do his best if the opportunity presents itself and he will not pull up just because Watson is his friend.
“Not at all,” he said. “I will give him a hug and a kiss after, but I will put everything into that hit. That is three and a half years of waiting to hit somebody and I will put all three years into one hit. Hopefully, he will feel it, but like I was saying, he will probably juke me out, honestly.”
Either way, the Watson vs. Boulware saga, plus Clemson West coming to Charlotte will make what is usually a boring preseason game, quite interesting.
—Photo Credit: Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports
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