On the Beat: Clemson QB Watson faces close friend Appalachian State LB in tragic week

Clemson wide receiver Trevion Thompson (1) breaks free from the Wofford defense. The Clemson Tigers played host to the Wofford Terriers at Memorial Stadium in Clemson Saturday, September 5, 2015. GWINN DAVIS / FOR POST AND COURIER

CLEMSON – What should have been an exciting week for the home team’s quarterback and the visiting team’s linebacker is marred by tragedy.

The friendship between Clemson sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson and Appalachian State outside linebacker Devan Stringer dates to when they in diapers, and lasted through graduating together at Gainesville (Ga.) High School, where they were football teammates. Stringer’s family regularly welcomed Watson to stay with them while Watson’s mother, Deann, spent extended time hospitalized with tongue cancer.

However, Watson himself broke the news to Clemson reporters and Appalachian State later released a statement announcing Stringer’s 11-day-old daughter, Noelle Marie Stringer, died suddenly Monday morning in Boone, N.C.

“I want to send prayers out to him. His baby passed away this morning, so I know he’s going through a hard time,” Watson said. “He’s going to be stronger. He’s a great player, and it’s going to be fun seeing him Saturday.”

Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield wrote in a statement: “Our entire program is heartbroken for Devan and his family today. A tragedy like this really puts football in perspective and gives all of us an opportunity to pause and think about what is truly important in life. Our thoughts, prayers and full support are with Devan and his family as they cope with this terrible tragedy.”

ASU didn’t announce whether Stringer planned to play in Saturday’s game.

“He’s excited to play against me and I’m excited to play against him,” Watson said. “It’s going to be fun and kind of weird.”

With Clemson junior wide receiver Mike Williams out of commission for at least half the season – and possibly longer – the Tigers are leaning on their depth at versatility at the position.

Senior wideout Charone Peake will step into Williams’ specific spot as the ‘9’ man – designated primarily for deep routes – and junior Germone Hopper moves into the starting lineup at Peake’s ‘5’ position, according to No. 12-ranked Clemson’s new depth chart released Monday.

“It doesn’t change anything, because all our receivers can play all three positions,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “We have guys that are going to step up and do a great job.”

Behind Peake are a couple of freshman deep threats: Trevion Thompson, coming off a redshirt year and a highly-praised fall camp, and talented true freshman Deon Cain.

On defense, third-year sophomore defensive tackle Scott Pagano was rewarded for his strong opening game by being dictated the starter. He’d been sharing the title with freshman Christian Wilkins last week preceding the Wofford game; now Wilkins is a backup, who still figures to play frequently.

Even though Williams can’t do anything physically for quite some time, his teammates found a little surprise when they arrived at the football complex Monday morning.

“We had 6:30 a.m. meetings, and Mike was the first one to show up,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “That meant a lot that he was there.”

The Tigers’ strategy in its opener was to play a bunch of players – 75 Tigers checked in Saturday – and they accomplished that early by turning loose the entire second-team offense for first-half drives, rather than subbing individuals at separate times.

“That was Coach (Dabo) Swinney’s plan; he wanted to get younger guys in there for some of that experience,” junior center Jay Guillermo said. “You can’t simulate a game on the practice field. You’ve got to let them know what it feels like to go against someone you haven’t gone against for a whole month and you know their tendencies like the back of their hand.”

It’s possible Guillermo will start at center Saturday vs. Appalachian State, with Ryan Norton listed as questionable with a knee injury. Tight end Stanton Seckinger and linebacker Martin Aiken are also questionable with knee injuries.