NEW YORK — Deshaun Watson has always been a guy that lives in the moment, and, more often than not, he is prepared for the moment when it comes.
Watson was not the starting quarterback for his junior varsity team in the eighth grade. Instead he was the backup quarterback, while also playing wide receiver and linebacker. But when the starter went down with an injury on the last play of the first half, Watson was told on his way back onto the field he was going to start the second half at quarterback.
In that moment he was prepared. On the first play from scrimmage to start the third quarter, he launched a 65-yard touchdown pass down the sideline – he has been the starting quarterback ever since.
“Deann has always told Deshaun to be yourself, have fun and just really do your best,” Watson’s Aunt Sonia said on Friday.
Just doing his best has Watson on the cusp of making history as he, along with Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, will find out tonight if he will be the winner of the 2015 Heisman Trophy.
No Clemson player as ever won College Football’s most prestigious award.
“I live in the moment and try not to look too far ahead, to not make something bigger than what it is, to try to enjoy the process,” Watson said. “I’m enjoying the talking. It’s a cool moment and a cool process.”
The process started for Watson the moment he stepped on campus at Clemson. It was obvious from the beginning he had a special trait in him no other quarterback at Clemson ever had. As he said, “the moment is never too big.”
In his first collegiate drive, playing at Georgia with all of America watching, on his second pass he throws a laser down the seam over a linebacker’s head and away from the safety to hit wide receiver Charone Peake for a 35-yard touchdown. It was a throw only a quarterback who plays on Sundays could make.
A few weeks later, while just living in the moment, Watson came off the bench at Florida State and completed 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards in nearly pulling off an upset of the top-ranked Seminoles.
That performance earned him his first career start the following week. While staying in the moment, he lit up North Carolina for 435 yards on 27 of 36 passing and a school record six touchdown passes. The next week against NC State he totaled 329 total yards and four touchdowns in a 41-0 rout of NC State.
No moment has been too big. Not playing with a torn ACL against South Carolina in the 2014 regular season finale, a game in which he threw two touchdowns and ran for two more. Not against Notre Dame in a driving rain storm earlier this year, when he threw for two scores and ran for another.
It wasn’t too big when he rallied the Tigers to a 23-13 victory over Florida State as he posted 404 total yards of offense, including 107 on the ground. And it wasn’t too big when he had 420 yards of total offense in leading Clemson to its first ACC Championship in four years with a win over North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game last weekend.
“All I have ever asked of Deshaun is to just do his best,” Deann said. “That’s what he has always done. He has done the best he can.”
Doing his best and playing in the moment has led Watson to New York where he is the first Heisman Trophy Finalist in Clemson history. In the process, he has led Clemson to its first undefeated season in 34 years, to the No. 1 ranking in the country and into the College Football Playoffs where he and the Tigers will take on No. 4 Oklahoma in the national semifinals on New Year’s Eve.
So if his name is called tonight as the winner of the 2015 Heisman Trophy, Deshaun Watson will have a speech prepared. Well, sort of.
“Not really,” he said. “I have a lot of people to thank. I’ll probably just be thanking people that helped me get through the process.”
In other words, he is just living in the moment and not looking too far ahead.