CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Though they were playing at Carolina’s Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday night, the atmosphere inside the stadium was an all-too familiar site for Deshaun Watson, Deandre Hopkins, Marcus Gilchrist, D.J. Reader, Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware.
It seemed like they were playing in Clemson’s Death Valley, thanks to the tens of thousands of Clemson fans that came out to see their former Clemson heroes.
“It was good, man. It felt like a home game. It felt like a Clemson game,” Hopkins said. “That’s the way it should feel with all the Clemson guys on this team.”
In all, five former Tigers are currently on the Texans’ roster – Gilchrist, Hopkins, Reader, Watkins and Watson, as well as Houston Team President Jamey Rootes, who won two national championships as a member of the 1984 and ’87 men’s soccer teams at Clemson.
Boulware is the lone Clemson representative on the Panthers’ roster.
The last time Boulware, Reader, Watkins and Watson played on the surface at Bank of America Stadium, they won the 2015 ACC Championship with a win over North Carolina. Watson said it felt like déjà vu.
“When I came out for warm-ups, I was telling a couple of the guys that the last time I was in this stadium, I won the ACC Championship,” Watson said. “It was a good feeling to be back here and do the same thing.”
It was even a better feeling for Watson when he checked into the game with 14:47 to play in the second quarter. The pro-Clemson crowd let out a loud roar, perhaps the largest cheer of the night, when Watson walked onto the field and towards the Houston huddle.
“It was awesome just to be able to have the support, that fan base, especially when I come back around this area,” Watson said. “I just want to thank all of my fans and people that were here to support me.”
Though Boulware loved seeing the Clemson fans in the stands, he admitted it was weird to see his former teammates across the field wearing a different jersey.
“It was different,” the former Clemson All-American said. “I was hoping I would get in there against Deshaun. I knew when I got in that it might be his last series, but I was a little too late. I knew going in that I was going to be one of the later guys in, but it was cool. It was different, but it was cool.”
Watson agreed that it was weird to see Boulware on another team, especially when he saw him at the end of the game.
“We’re usually on the same sideline,” the Houston quarterback said. “Talking to him, he’s doing a great job. It was weird going three years with him and now seeing him on the opposite sideline.”
Reader and Watkins, who played alongside each other on several plays Wednesday night, joined Boulware and Watson on the field for a few minutes so they could catch up for just a minute on old times.
“It was cool playing in different uniforms and getting to (see them),” Boulware said. “I haven’t talked to (Watson) in a long time, at least face to face. Just being able to catch up with him, give him a hug, just seeing him was a cool experience.”
As was seeing all that orange in the stands … it was almost like playing in Death Valley, again.
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