Deshaun Watson simply couldn’t catch a break in 2014. Three weeks after taking over the starting quarterback job in Clemson’s overtime loss to Florida State on Sept. 20, the true freshman broke his right hand in a win over Louisville on Oct. 11. He returned to action after missing three games but sprained his knee in a 28-6 loss at Georgia Tech on Nov. 15 and later tore his ACL in practice.
Still, Watson’s injury-prone campaign didn’t overshadow his immense potential. He completed 67.9% of his passes for 1,466 yards with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Watson also set a single-season school record with a 188.6 passer rating. As long as he can stay healthy, the former five-star prospect is clearly the Tigers’ quarterback of the future.
SI.com caught up with Watson this spring to discuss his recovery, his reaction to losing offensive coordinator Chad Morris, his Netflix habits and more.
SI: How limited have you been this spring? And how would you describe your rehab so far?
Deshaun Watson: I haven’t been on the field. I’ve been rehabbing and just kind of watching from a distance with coach [Dabo] Swinney, just seeing things from a coach’s point of view. But it’s really good. I’m about four months out.
SI: If you had to put a percentage on your knee, how healthy are you?
DW: Honestly, I’m not even sure. It’s hard for me to translate where I’m at.
SI: Are you still on track to be healthy for your opener against Wofford on Sept. 5?
DW: Oh yeah, of course.
SI: When you hurt your knee at Georgia Tech, you’d already missed three games with a broken hand. What went through your mind at the moment of the injury?
DW: Jeez, just thinking that far back in time—I just wanted to go back out there and play. But they said I was done for the game, so I just really tried to cheer my teammates on and hope we’d still pull out the victory. We didn’t, but from then on I was just concerned about my knee and making sure to take care of myself.
SI: Did you ever have a moment where you worried about your future in football?
DW: Never. I never worried about that because I know injuries are just part of the game. People have gone through ACL and knee problems before and come back stronger than before with productive seasons. I never doubted myself, and I want to come back even better than I was before.
SI: What have you been doing this spring while you can’t practice?
DW: I want to be out there with my teammates. But I’m still around. They see me around, and I encourage everyone and try to be that leader. I’m still out there with those guys and in the film room. I’m just not physically practicing yet.
SI: You were a four-year starter at Gainesville (Ga.) High. You also won a state championship there. How important was Gainesville to your development?
DW: It was great. The coaches from there are phenomenal, and they prepare you. From the strength and conditioning coaches to the teachers, just the whole school prepares you for life at the next level. I would encourage anyone to go Gainesville. The things they do and how they work, it’s phenomenal.
SI: Gainesville has produced a number of standout players in recent years. One is former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, who led the Crimson Tide to the College Football Playoff last year. Do you have a relationship with Blake?
DW: I’ve known Blake ever since he got to Gainesville. We have a great relationship, and we talk whenever we get the chance. Just having that relationship and knowing a guy who has the chance to play in the NFL is great. And to get experience from him about the SEC, that’s pretty good.
SI: What kind of advice has Blake given you?
DW: He has just said to keep doing what I’m doing and make sure never to be complacent.
SI: You went from one small town in Gainesville to another in Clemson. How would you describe Gainesville to an outsider?
DW: It’s very laid-back and very homey. Everyone is very nice. Honestly, it’s a lot like Clemson, and that’s why I picked Clemson because they’re pretty similar. They’ve both got the lake, great people around and different things you can do.
SI: When you were first getting into football, were there any college or NFL quarterbacks you particularly admired?
DW: I watched a lot of Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees. Those are the main ones that pop into my head. Growing up and watching those guys and how they play to win, they’re pretty special.
SI: Your old offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, helped recruit you, and he left after last season to become the head coach at SMU. Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott are now Clemson's co-offensive coordinators. How have things changed on offense?
DW: There’s not a big difference at all. It’s just not having [Morris] in our presence, that’s probably the only difference. But tempo, throwing the ball, running the ball, it’s all still there. Nothing’s changed, and Swinney is very good with that. He wants to run that spread offense and be fast. That’s what he wants to do, so nothing’s going to change just because someone else leaves.
SI: You return seven starters from an offense that averaged 30.8 points per game in 2014. Can you be better than last year?
DW: We can be as good as we want to be. We control that. It just depends on the attitude and the leadership we have. We just can’t be complacent. We have to come together, and that’s what we’re going to do.
SI: Swinney talks a lot about your leadership on this team. How would you describe your relationship with him?
DW: It’s very good. We have a close relationship. Being the QB of any program, you have to have a close relationship with the head coach. We have a great time and enjoy ourselves. We just prepare each day to get better and take this program to a high level.
SI: Swinney has said you were quick to earn the respect of your teammates, even as a true freshman. Is that hard to do?
DW: It can be. You just have to approach it a certain way. You can’t come in too fast and take over the game. You just have to let it unfold by itself. I trust in all the upperclassmen. From then on, it took care of itself.
SI: What do you like to do when you aren’t playing football?
DW: Watch movies. I used to play basketball, but I can’t now [because of my knee injury]. I’d just shoot around, go on the lake, hang out with teammates and family.
SI: Favorite movie?
DW: I would probably say all three Friday movies, with Ice Cube and Chris Rock.
SI: Are you a Netflix guy? Do you have any favorite shows?
DW: I’m not on it too much, but I’ll get on there and watch random movies. I’m mostly just a movie guy. My girlfriend is the big show-watcher.
SI: You tweeted a lot about Duke in the NCAA tournament. Are you a Duke fan?
DW: Yeah, I always grew up a Duke basketball fan. I love Coach K. I wanted Duke to win it all. Hopefully they can do it again next year.
SI: Did you pick Duke to win the title in your bracket? Even over Kentucky?
DW: I picked Duke. I had Duke and Kentucky in the championship game, but Wisconsin beat Kentucky, so I messed up my bracket on that part. But it was a great game because Duke pulled it out.
SI: Is Coach K the best basketball coach in the country?
DW: I think so. Him and [Kentucky coach John] Calipari.
DW: [laughs] Honestly, it’s hard to say. Both of those guys are winners and great guys. Being a quarterback, I enjoy watching both of them. I’m a big fan of Jameis and I’m a big fan of Marcus in all kinds of ways. I’d have to be a part of the draft process, and I’m not sure how that process looks yet. But I’d be happy to have both of those guys on my team.