Still in the infancy of his career, Watson was also trying to become a leader on the team and win the starting job for a Clemson squad that had its eyes set on an ACC title. He was following in the footsteps of three-year starter Tajh Boyd, one of the best players in ACC history. He made just three starts.
That’s all behind him now. This year, he finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
“His confidence in himself because of the success he had last year and then the work he put in the offseason, and then the biggest thing is he’s just become the leader of the team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. ”He’s really asserted himself that way. It’s just a whole different deal for his this year. You know, great players are at their best in crunch-time, and you rise to the occasion. And that’s what he’s done all year for this team.”
Watson missed five games last season, including the Russell Athletic Bowl victory against the Oklahoma Sooners . He hasn’t missed a start in 2015 and threw for 3,517 yards and rushed for 887. Watson’s 4,404 total yards were more in a single season than Boyd ever had.
Watson also added 41 total touchdowns this year.
“We didn’t see Deshaun Watson last year, but probably a good thing in that they still beat us bad,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “ I think he’s exceptional. What a great athlete, thrower, runner, everything, poise. The little I have seen from him, I really have a great respect and appreciation for what a quality player he is. He’ll be a challenge to get ready for.”
Most of Watson’s progress has come because of what Swinney called the greatest teacher: Experience. Healthy too, Watson isn’t worried about much else – the job is his and he’s shown that he can be a leader. He’s the guy for the Tigers, who have won 16 straight games.
“He just has a lot of confidence and prepares relentlessly for the opponent and just takes complete ownership in what we’re asking him to do,” Swinney said. “Just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Just really a great, great competitor and an even better person. He’s still got some improving to do. I think another offseason is gonna be huge for him. But he’s as good as there is out there, for sure.”