CHARLOTTE — How Deshaun Watson spent a summer vacation wedged between a Heisman Trophy finalist season that ended with the College Football national championship game appearance and one more Clemson shot:
— Completed 17 hours of summer school work to leave him five hours short of a Communication Studies degree entering his junior year.
— Tutored campers at Trent Dilfer’s Elite 11 quarterback camp in Oregon.
— Worked with QB guru George Whitfield.
— Caught up with good buddy Cam Newton.
— Attended the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., swapping stories with Peyton and Eli.
— Gained weight, up to 218 pounds on his 6-2 frame after playing at 202 last season (Watson entered Clemson at 182).
— Carefully crafted an image.
“A good brand for Deshaun Watson is a good guy on the field,” the Clemson quarterback said Friday at the ACC Football Kickoff. “He respects the game. He really understands that football has been there longer than he has and that it can be taken away any second, any minute. And just being a great person off the field, helping in the community. Student-athlete, servant, leader. And just does his stuff the right way all the time.”
Watson is an NFL quarterback playing college football, a 2017 first-round draft pick dabbling in ACC championship pursuit while waiting for the call from the Cleveland Browns or some other unfortunate franchise about to reverse fortunes.
If Watson quits football tomorrow he is the greatest Clemson player ever. What makes him extra special is an honest grasp of elite status combined with a hard-scrabble knack of duty.
“I embrace it,” Watson said of Heisman hype, “because I feel like I’m one of the best in the country. Every athlete should feel that way. If you don’t feel that way, you’re cheating yourself. God put me in this position for a reason. This is what I’ve worked for. But I understand I have to go earn it. Nobody is going to give it to me in the preseason.”
When not in class or traveling, Watson also focused this summer on football drills with teammates and film study, both designed to make specific strides.
“Decision making. Cut down on turnovers. Being a better leader. Pocket presence,” he said. “I didn’t have a perfect season so there are always things I can work on and do a lot better.”
Watson talked a lot Friday about an off-season of “staying in my lane” and “not putting things off.”
It was a demanding schedule fit for a 20-year-old from Gainesville, Ga., who demands much of himself. For better or worse, Watson said he prefers to avoid comment on civil unrest and social issues — “I don’t want to get very political or anything like that.” But he did have time last week to appreciate a tip of the cap from Nick Saban. The Alabama head coach, survivor of a 45-40 College Football Playoff national championship game result, said Watson was the best opponent the Crimson Tide faced since Newton.
Watson dressed the part Friday. The pins on the lapels of his dark suit said as much about the football player as any of his answers at the Westin hotel in downtown Charlotte:
— Orange tiger paw
— Gold Heisman Trophy football
— Silver Davey O’Brien Award logo
All part of what is expected at Clemson these days.
“The standard is never going to change,” Watson said. “The best is the standard.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff