By Tim Bourret
It has already been quite a week for Deshaun Watson. The honors, awards and general celebration of a 13-0 and No. 1 ranked season continued on Friday.
It all started on Monday when he was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He is the first Heisman Finalist in Clemson history and is guaranteed to be the highest finish by any Clemson gridder in history.
Steve Fuller, he of the patch that Watson wears on the front of his jersey, finished sixth in the 1978 race. So, two of the three top 10 finishers in Clemson history both wore No. 4. In Fuller’s era only the winner came to New York for a trophy presentation.
C.J. Spiller Fuller’s finish in 2009, but he was not selected to come to New York. The Heisman Trust brought five to the Big Apple that year, much to the chagrin of Clemson nation.
Second, Watson finished his academic finals on Wednesday round 4 p.m. That was an accomplishment in itself because the sophomore signal caller took 18 hours this semester. I Can’t recall a Clemson football player making first-team All-American and passing 18 hours in the same semester.
That is six different courses for those of you who haven’t been to college in a while. He took an economics final at 8 a.m. after learning he was a Heisman finalist 14 hours earlier. I might have had trouble concentrating for that one.
Finishing that last final on Wednesday afternoon around 4:30 had to feel like the weight of the world had been lifted as he was driven to Atlanta for the Home Depot Awards Show. Now all he has to worry about is the Oklahoma Sooners defense for the next 20 days.
After a tour of the College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday morning, Watson received the first award of the night at the Home Depot College Football Awards show. He was one of three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award and he took home the hardware thanks to a season in which he was the only player in the country to rush for at least 800 yards and throw for over 3,500. In fact, if he rushes for 113 more against Oklahoma he will be just the third quarterback in FBS history to have 1000 yards rushing and 3500 passing in the same year.
Remember when we all made such a big deal about Woody Dantzler becoming the first player in college history with 1000 rushing and 2000 passing in the same year? We take nothing away from Dantzler, who accomplished the feat in 11 regular season games, but Watson has trumped that passing yardage by near 1500.
I could tell winning the O’Brien Award meant something to Watson especially because he was the first Clemson quarterback to win it. Tajh Boyd had been a semifinalist his last three years, but had not won the award. In fact Dwayne Allen (Mackey Award, top tight end) was the last Clemson player to win any national position award.
While Watson did not win the Maxwell Award (don’t panic, only two of the last seven Maxwell winners have also won the Heisman), he had an enjoyable evening taking in the atmosphere at the Hall of Fame. One must imagine that he could return there some day after his playing days are over if he continues at this pace.
After an appearance with Head Coach Dabo Swinney on the ESPN post awards show, Watson was treated to dinner along with the other Maxwell and O’Brien Award finalists at a local Atlanta Restaurant. It was just after midnight when he got back to the room and “slept fast” as my mother used to say.
Watson was back on a shuttle bus to the AtlantaAirport at 6:25 a.m. The plane carrying the three Heisman finalists, the families and their sports information directors arrived at the La Guardia Airport at 11:15 a.m. But it was another two hours before the group arrived at the hotel. It was a normal Friday in December in New York City from a traffic standpoint.
Watson was welcomed by a group from the Clemson Club of New York, a gathering 30 strong that concluded the meeting with the CLEMSON in cadence count. Watson had an ear to ear smile. There was no such welcome for the other finalists.
A luncheon at a local restaurant was not cancelled, but the Heisman Trust folks called an audible and had the lunch delivered to the hotel. That kept everything on schedule.
A media gathering followed. It was not in formal press conference style, which was a good way to do it. The three finalists sat at tables, then rotated every 10 minutes. Then there was a photo opportunity from the eighth floor balcony overlooking Times Square. Directly in the background was the site of the ball drop every New Year’s Eve (the ball isn’t there yet). The bright lights were something to see on this unseasonable warm day (60 degrees).
The finalists continued their hectic schedule at the High School Heisman Dinner. Former NFL great and 1981 Heisman Award winner Marcus Allen interviewed all three finalists in a panel discussion format that lasted 20 minutes. Strong messages were sent to the youngsters in attendance from the finalists and Allen, who played 16 years in the NFL, most ever by a running back.
At 7:30 p.m. Watson, his mother and aunt joined the other Heisman families in a tour of New York City from a double-decker bus. The city was jammed with people as this is the busiest time of the year with the holiday season in full force. Watson and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford sat in the front row of the top deck for the entire 90 minute ride and took in every bright light. Neither had been to New York previously.
It was a treat for Watson because he had talked about taking his mom to New York many times before when the topic of being a Heisman finalist was discussed. His mom and aunt occupied the other two front row seats on that top row.
The highlight of the tour took place at 9 p.m. when the bus stopped and the entire group had pictures made in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree that is across the street from the site of the NBC Today Show.
The evening’s activities concluded at 10:30 p.m. with the awarding of the Heisman Finalist plaques, a tradition that began in 2007. The honors are presented at the Heisman Welcome Reception and 10 former Heisman winners were present, including 1966 Heisman winner Steve Spurrier.
It was a long, but enjoyable day for Deshaun Watson and his family. I had the privilege to be a part of it.
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