Few players can impact a football program and an entire fan base the way quarterback Deshaun Watson has been able to in his three seasons at Clemson University. Despite the honors and awards or the criticism that came his way at any point in his career, the Gainesville, Ga. native handled it all with grace while leading the Tigers to their first national championship in 35 years.
When Watson left high school, he had compiled 17,134 yards of total offense and never played a junior varsity down. He led Gainesville to its first state title in over 100 years, and he still holds the state record for most passing yards in a career with 13,077. He continued that trend of success into his college career where he won on the field and won his way into the hearts of Clemson fans as the best player the school has ever seen.
In his first game as a Tiger, Watson entered a hostile Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., and completed 2 of 4 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown at No. 12 Georgia. Fast-forward four weeks to the 50-35 victory over North Carolina where he was 27-36 for 435 yards and six touchdowns in his first career start. He set 12 school records that day and went on to receive countless honors including being named the Davey O’Brian and Manning Quarterback of the Week along with ACC Rookie and Co-Offensive Back of the Week.
Watson then snapped the five-game losing streak to South Carolina with a 35-17 victory over the Gamecocks on Nov. 29, 2014. Not only did he bring the pride of winning the rivalry game back to the Upstate, but he did so with a torn ACL.
He finished his true freshman season completing 93-137 for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions over eight games. He started five games in his first season wearing the Tiger Paw and would have racked up more yards and scores if it weren’t for a broken finger and the ACL injury that kept him from competing at different points of the season.
After captivating audiences in his first year, Watson showed the world he could help take Clemson to new levels of success as he became the first FBS quarterback in history to throw for 4,000 yards and run 1,000 in the same season. In 2015, Watson led the Tigers to an ACC Championship and to its first national title game appearance since 1981.
While Clemson lost 45-40 to Alabama, Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 73 more. His 478 total yards were the most in a national championship game. In 2016, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he would have voted for Watson to win the Heisman if he was allowed to vote.
“I think he’s a fantastic competitor and a great player and played a fantastic game against us,” Saban said.
In 2015, Watson lost the Heisman Trophy to former Alabama running back Derrick Henry as he finished third in the overall voting, but the Clemson quarterback used that and the heartbreaking defeat to Alabama as motivation to become a bigger and stronger version of himself.
Watson added over 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season to make sure he would be in the best condition possible when he took the field 2016.
In 2016, Watson led the Tigers to an 11-1 regular season, then helped Clemson secure its second-consecutive ACC Championship for the first time in 28 years. He was again named the MVP of the ACC Championship Game for contributing 373 total yards and five touchdowns in a 42-35 victory over Virginia Tech. This led to the Tigers being ranked as the No. 2 team in the nation, sending Clemson to the College Football Playoff for a second year in a row.
In the 2017 National Championship game, Watson became the Most Valuable Offensive Player when he completed 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three scores. He added 43 more yards and a touchdown on the ground to help lead the Tigers to win their first National Championship since 1981. Those numbers put him at 5,219 yards of total offense (4,593 passing) for the season where he recorded 50 total touchdowns including his nine rushing scores.
After placing third in last year’s Heisman race, Watson earned 269 first place votes as a 2016 finalist and came in second to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. This made Watson the first ACC player to be invited to the final ceremony in consecutive years. The first Heisman finalist at Clemson also was the first quarterback in the program to win the Davey O’Brien Award twice in consecutive seasons, the Manning Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
The awards didn’t stop there. Watson was also named the National Player of the Year through the 2016 Chic Harley Award, which is presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio for performance through conference championship weekend. The same organization presented him with the Archie Griffin Award last year as the top college player through the bowl season.
Watson was also named ESPN’s 2016 Player of the Year.
“I believe he is the best player in the nation and has been a great representative of our University. College football is better over the last three years because of Deshaun Watson,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Watson ended his Clemson career with a year of eligibility remaining, but put up plenty of record numbers in his time. In three seasons, Watson tied Rodney Williams and Tajh Boyd with 32 wins as a starter, but his 32-3 overall record as a starter is the best in school history in terms of win percentage.
In his career, Watson threw for 10,163 yards and 90 touchdowns. His 12,094 total yards of offense places him third in ACC history behind Boyd and NFL quarterback Philip Rivers. He also finished first in Clemson history with 318.3 yards of total offense per game, completion percentage and passing efficiency.
But it is not just Watson’s individual accomplishments Clemson fans will remember about the award-winning star. While the honors will forever be noted in the history books next to the quarterback’s name, it is Watson’s incredible leadership and ability to make others around him better that will truly be remembered.
In his final season, Watson was selected by his teammates as one of six permanent captains of the National Championship squad, proving how his leadership qualities have impacted his peers.
Although Watson’s time as a Tiger has been filled with success and awards that are only the beginning for the NFL bound quarterback, one accomplishment still holds a greater weight in the heart of the record-breaker and his family. In just three years, Watson was able to graduate with a degree in Communications, and he was even a two-time All-ACC Academic selection.
“Walking across the stage and getting that degree is probably one of the biggest accomplishments for my family and my mom,” Watson said.
We are now taking orders for our limited edition magazine Mission Accomplished. Remember Clemson’s championship season with this great magazine from the staff that covers Clemson football 365 days a year. Order your’s today to make sure you get a copy!