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Red Zone Play: Deshaun Watson Is Driven To Give

Deshaun Watson leading the kids in a huddle.
Mike Bullock

This is Part III of BRB’s coverage of the meet and greet with Deshaun Watson at Gatorade’s recent “Beat the Heat” youth football event hosted by the Houston Texans YMCA. Here’s Part I and Part II if you missed out.)

Deshaun Watson.

The name alone generates thousands of Google hits and brings in mad ratings.

If you want to know about the statistical achievements, wins, and other measurable benchmarks of the football life of Deshaun Watson, the information is out there on any one of a dozen or more football related websites. From simple completion percentages to the number of completions made when rolling out to the right against a base 4-3 defense with a single high safety and blitzing Mike ‘backer, the data is out there and readily available.

If you want to know about who Deshaun Watson really is behind that deep steel blue facemask, you simply have to look him in the eye. That’s where you’ll find the spark of intelligence—high intelligence at that—and the gleam of integrity. If you get him talking about the right things, you’ll also watch the professional veneer slide away and a well of passion rise to the surface.

When fellow BRBer Kenneth Levy and I had the pleasure of meeting Deshaun and chatting with him for awhile last week, Watson’s intelligence was very much on display as he discussed Xs and Os with professional clarity and confidence (something not always seen from NFL quarterbacks, as crazy as that seems). What was really intriguing, however, was watching Deshaun come alive when he was working with the kids at the event.

During the event, Deshaun offered this advice to local youth coaches dealing with the Houston heat. “Make sure your kids stay hydrated. When it’s too hot and you can tell the kids are getting frustrated or exhausted, cut it out and take practice into a gym or even just a big room. You can still teach them and have them learn in there. There’s no point in trying to (push) those kids in this heat. Nothing good can come out of it. You want safety at all times for those kids.”

From simply clowning around to demonstrating passing techniques, Deshaun was the beloved big brother of every kid in attendance. The synergy between the kids and one of Houston’s most popular sports figures was energizing to witness.

From the moment he walked into the gym, a jolt of electricity ran through all the kids and Deshaun responded with a sincerity a lot of professional athletes lack these days. It was great to see that all the stories of great things he’s done for the kids in the Houston area wasn’t just some media-manufactured PR stunt. It’s something that truly bubbled to the surface of who Deshaun Watson really is.

When asked about why he felt so driven to show up for these youth events, Watson told us, “I love just hanging with the kids. When I was younger I had the opportunity to do the same thing and it inspired me to become the person I am today. Being able to teach these kids some things that maybe they haven’t been taught before and let them know I was in their shoes before, I want to share with them the things that the older guys, the professional guys and my role models, taught me.”

Watson was recently recognized at the Charley Awards, a sports and coaching award ceremony in Charleston. Reporters there couldn’t help but ask about the man behind the mask.

Gene Sapakoff: It was such a cool thing last September when you gave your first NFL game check to those three NRG Stadium cafeteria workers hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. How nice was it to be able to do something like that and what motivated you to do it?

Watson: It was just an emotional time, not just for myself and the team but the whole city of Houston. We needed things to lift the city and the community. Nobody really knew about it until the day it happened and it just came from the heart.

Not long after signing with the Houston Texans, Watson surprised a bunch of youths from the Southeast Falcons Football Association at a local Dick’s Sporting Goods and gave them each $150 gift cards to spend on football equipment. During the event, he also answered questions and signed autographs for the kids.

When last season wrapped up, Watson wasted no time heading back to the Carolinas, where he spent his collegiate career at Clemson on his way to a National Championship. There, Watson led a four-hour youth football camp, teaching and hanging out with the kids, and then letting them get pictures with their favorite NFL quarterback. Not only did the camp sell out, it was a big-ticket news item on a wide variety of local media channels.

Before Clemson, Deshaun spent his high school years leading Gainesville High to a state championship. During his prep career, Watson was an All-American, setting state records with 17,134 yards of total offense and throwing for 218 touchdowns. He also won the Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia his senior season when he threw for 4,431 yards and 57 touchdowns. Oh, and he ran for 1,057 more yards and 14 more touchdowns. As you’d imagine, Deshaun remains beloved there as well.

When asked about [Watson’s] recent knee injury, his old coach Bruce Miller stated, “He was special in every way as a player, and as a person, just the way he treated people. He was so coachable, one of the most coachable guys. He was a top 10 player in the country and he was out there working harder than anybody. (The recent knee injury) just breaks my heart for him. I know how hard he has worked to get to where he is. But knowing him, he’ll get over the initial disappointment and work and get back (to) being stronger than before.”

When Sports Illustrated asked his college coach, Dabo Swinney, about Deshaun, he had nothing but praise as well. “Nobody works harder than Deshaun. Nobody prepares more. He stays after practice every day. He works on the little things. He is focused and driven.

“He’s the franchise. He’s the unicorn. The guy has no flaws. He’s so talented, but he’s a better person than he is a football player. He’s so intelligent. He’s brilliant. He just gets it and he wants it. He’s hungry and humble for it.”

With Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and many of the other Texans pouring time and money back into the community, helping kids and encouraging so many to live up to their potential, it’s no wonder the Texans are so popular.

Still, kids can smell a phony a mile away.

Thankfully, there’s not even a whiff of “smile for the cameras” going on with Deshaun. A genuinely humble guy, Watson can relate to a lot of the inner-city kids in Houston. Raised with his three siblings by their single mother, all Watson knew was public housing on the south side of Gainesville, Georgia until an event occurred best described as a miracle: His mother was granted her request for a Habitat for Humanity home. What she didn’t know when she applied was that former NFL star running back Warrick Dunn was the one providing the home.

Having such a positive impact in his life made by an NFL star could very well be the impetus that drives Watson to give back now.

When we asked Watson what the best takeaway he had from participating in these youth sports events, his response was simple:

“Never let anyone tell you that you can’t fulfill your dreams.”