The first time he ever met Deshaun Watson, Michael Perry was a football player at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Georgia. He was helping with a summer football camp in his hometown and Deshaun joined his older brother Detrick, then 10, in camp.
“He would not say a word. He was the shyest kid ever,” Perry recalled when thinking back to that moment.
Perry and his twin brother knew Detrick pretty well because he was always full of energy and was not afraid to talk with anyone. Deshaun, who was five years old at the time, was quite the opposite. He was very quiet and reserved. Perry remembers when Detrick and Deshaun would come over to their house to throw the football, and how they seldom even knew Deshaun was there.
“He was quiet as a mouse,” Perry said.
Though he was quiet, Deshaun was paying attention. He watched everything. He was listening. He was already developing the skills he uses today as No. 2 Clemson’s All-American Quarterback. By the time he reached middle school, Deshaun was already coming into his own as a player.
By the sixth grade he was the starting quarterback on the middle school team, a first in Gainesville, and by the eighth grade he was already the talk of the town.
“It is funny but in his eighth-grade year, every first play they called was four verticals. It was every single time, and the defense knew they were going to do it. It was a touchdown all six times,” said Perry, whose brother coached Deshaun on that team. “It was a touchdown every time on the first play of the game. The defense would call it. ‘Here it comes! Here it comes!’ He just dropped it right in there.”
It was about that time when Perry started coaching Deshaun, though he admits coaching Deshaun was one of the easiest jobs he had.
“He is the hardest worker and a humble kid. I can’t tell you enough good things about him,” said Perry, who is now the offensive coordinator at Coffee High School in Douglas, Ga. “I love that kid to death. Clemson is very fortunate to have him.”
Perry started working with Deshaun’s footwork and teaching him how to read defenses when he was in the eighth grade. By the time he became a sophomore, Deshaun’s football IQ was already higher than just about every other player his age.
“We worked on his footwork, understanding defenses and when a defense shows this coverage what are their strengths and what are their weaknesses. That’s something you are always talking about and trying to develop at the high school level,” Perry said. “You’re just trying to get them to understand the mental aspect of the game, but by his sophomore year Deshaun was very exceptional for his age.”
ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Joey Galloway have both said if there was one game they had to win and they had to pick a quarterback who could go win the game for them, they would both choose Deshaun Watson.
It’s Deshaun’s ability to stay calm under pressure. He never gets lost in the moment. No moment is too big for him.
Such was the case last week, when the Tigers, who will host Syracuse on Saturday, trailed Florida State by five points with 3:23 left on the clock.
Earlier in the game, Deshaun had thrown two interceptions and just seemed a little off from his normal self. But when it was crutch time and Clemson needed one last scoring drive, Deshaun was Deshaun. He was not nervous, he was not too high, he was not too low … he was just calm. He was ready to lead his team down the field and get the win.
“He handles adversity better than most other people,” Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett said. “He just goes out there and moves on to the next play. He just brings a whole different kind of confidence to the offense and helps us play easier, play with calmness. We can just chill and relax and go out there and play.
“It was stressful (being down), but we knew we were going to win no matter what.”
Without even blinking, Deshaun led Clemson on a five-play, 75-yard drive which he capped with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Leggett for the winning score.
“I feel blessed to have the best quarterback in the country. Obviously, the media and other people are going to say certain things. But I believe he is the best player in the country and he has unbelievable poise and unbelievable knowledge,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Last Saturday’s win in Tallahassee was the third time this season Deshaun led the Tigers on a game-winning drive at the end of regulation or overtime. He also threw a winning touchdown pass to Leggett—this time for 31 yards—in Clemson’s come-from-behind win over Louisville on Oct. 1. He threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Artavis Scott to beat NC State in overtime on Oct. 15.
“It honestly does not surprise me,” Perry said. “He obviously is very talented. God blessed him tremendously, but when you put his talent with that work ethic, that’s what makes him what he is. I guarantee you right now, that kid is in his room looking at film. There is no doubt.”
An uncommon quarterback
Perry remembers how calm Deshaun was the day he and his Gainesville teammates played Sandy Creek High School in the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs in 2011. Sandy Creek had a 41-game winning streak and was the favorite to win another state championship.
Deshaun was a sophomore, and he did not care.
“He just played phenomenal. It was like he was a man amongst boys and he was just a sophomore going against a state power,” Perry said. “They had won 41 games in a row, and he just ends it just like that. He just led us up and down the field.”
Deshaun completed 23 of 32 passes that night for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 129 yards in the 35-21 victory.
“He was not rattled. He never gets rattled,” Perry said.
And that is what makes Deshaun uncommon among a world of common quarterbacks.
“That’s why he is such a good quarterback because that’s what you have to have. With the quarterback position it can be an up and down roller-coaster, but Deshaun is just as steady as he can be,” Perry said.
Perry says he tries to text Deshaun at least once a week to see how things are going. He said Deshaun does not talk about the Heisman Trophy. He does not talk about turning professional or any of those things.
“He is only worried about his particular matchup he has at Clemson so he is not really looking into any of that,” Perry said.
Instead, Deshaun is just sitting back and being quiet. He is watching and he is learning. And when his time comes again, and it will, he will be ready to lead his team to another victory.
“That’s Deshaun being Deshaun. That’s who he is,” Perry said.