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A Similar Path

A Similar Path

Note: The following appears in the September issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.

Hailing from Athens, Ga., where he currently owns National Champions Car Detailing, Homer Jordan was destined to pave the way for many young men who would eventually cross the threshold as Clemson Tigers, including current quarterback Deshaun Watson, who comes from Gainesville, Ga. (only 42 miles away from Jordan’s hometown). Although they are a few generations apart in terms of playing time, the similarities and even the differences between the two Clemson quarterbacks are impossible to ignore.

When Jordan was admitted into the school in 1979, the prospect of an African-American football player at Clemson was still fairly new, since the institution itself had only been integrated for 16 years at this time, and the integration of athletics had only 10 years under its belt.

For Watson, the time period and demographics of athletics were extremely different, but the goal remained the same when he entered the university 35 years after Jordan in 2014…to play with all of your heart, support your teammates and hopefully bring home a national championship trophy. Thanks to Jordan and his 1981 national championship season, that last goal has been met once before. Watson came in with the determination to make sure that it is not the last.

During the 1981 season, the Tigers were the “underdogs” despite having an undefeated season. The same can be said of the 2015 Tigers. Although they had grasped their first season ranked as No. 1 since 1981 and also had an undefeated regular season, they were still being referred to as the underdogs. For both quarterbacks, this only hardened the chips on their shoulders. The stakes were higher, so they knew what had to be done.

With the 14-0 run during the 2015 season, it seemed as though Watson and his team may have been able to bring the Tigers’ second championship home during his second college season. As we watched the play clock wind down to zero during the fourth quarter in the title game, Tiger fans around the world felt many emotions, but none can compare to that moment in Watson’s mind.

It was a tough loss, but according to him, “At the end of the day, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it helps us for this year to have a chip on our shoulders. We understand what we have to do to get back there, and we have to go 10 times harder than we did last year.”

Watson knows that Clemson football is the target for other teams in college football, but he is confident that he and his team will continue to grind daily in order to revisit the 2017 title game in Tampa, Fla.

In other words, this was only a minor setback for a major comeback. Knowing that he is being watched by everyone makes him hungrier than ever, and he cannot wait to claim that title, much like Jordan did when he came, saw and conquered in January 1982.

The two Clemson quarterbacks share a few statistics from their two title-run seasons. Both ended their regular seasons in 1981 and 2015 undefeated, and they finished these seasons No. 12 nationally in passing efficiency. They both won the Orange Bowl, as Jordan’s win was for the national championship against Nebraska, while Watson’s earned him a spot in the national title game against Alabama. Both the 1981 and 2015 Tigers defeated the No. 4 ranked team in Florida.

Aside from statistics, another aspect that Jordan and Watson have in common is their undying faith.

“If it weren’t for God, I wouldn’t be in this position,” said Watson. “If you don’t have that stability, it’s going to be a rough road.”

In fact, he names his pastor as a man who has had a great influence on his life.

Jordan had the same thing to say about his own faith being the reason behind where he is today. Along similar lines, they both believe that family is extremely important. Neither is afraid to admit that their mothers were and are their driving forces and their greatest support systems.

With Watson’s mother being a huge advocate for education and knowing that he is about to embark on an even greater journey following graduation in December, he said that he, “want(s) to have his degree before he does it.”

Jordan and his siblings were raised by his mother, who worked two jobs to support her family after his father died when he was young. He believes he had it pretty well off.

“I ate every day and the lights were on every month,” said Jordan. “Some times were probably tight, but they got everything they needed.”

His mother was present at every home game. Although she rarely watched the action on the field, it meant a lot to Jordan to see her in the stands.

Because of their experiences growing up, they are both extremely wise men. Watson grew up in a city where, “you’re either going to take the street life or you’re going to play sports, and all the positive things are getting overshadowed by the negative things.”

Watson learned early on that he had a special talent, and his community supported him along the way. Those who were not able to pursue sports made sure that he stayed focused on school and football, and if he needed anything or he was going down the wrong path, they’d let him know.

Ultimately, he loves the fact that he can inspire people who come from where he is from, and he hopes to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Whether intentionally or not, both Watson and Jordan have already made a difference. As a father and a coach for his high school alma mater for 10 seasons, Jordan has certainly been a mentor to many, and Watson aspires to be that for others as well.

The two quarterbacks almost never focus on highlighting themselves. They never hesitate to emphasize the fact that “it’s about our team,” as Jordan says. For him, avoiding the spotlight and staying true to who he is is just a matter of his upbringing. In fact, his mother influenced a lot of his personality traits and views on life.

“I have always been a very private and shy person,” admitted Watson.

Because of this fact, many people don’t even know about his extensive football background. For Watson, staying out of the spotlight is harder with the media attention surrounding college football these days, but he also prides himself on his ability to stay true and “normal,” although many try to tell him that he can’t in his position. No matter what others say, however, he never forgets where he came from.

Both Jordan and Watson have contributed much to their communities and to the Clemson football program…their blood, sweat, tears and more. Their drive and determination to succeed complement their ventures, both on and off the gridiron, which has led them both to successful seasons as Tiger quarterbacks.

Therefore, comparing the two is only natural, as they are the only two quarterbacks in Clemson history to lead their teams to a national championship game. However, their differences are what make them both true Tigers.

As Watson puts it when talking about quarterbacks in general, “Each one of us is very different. We have our own ways of doing things and how we react and talk and communicate.”

It’s hard to disagree with this statement. They have their own swag, so to speak, but one thing remains the same between the two quarterbacks.

They will always be Tigers.