The Harris County football team has faced plenty of adversity during the 2012 season.
It faced four straight losses to open the season. It faced the doubts of nearly everyone saying it was down for the count midway through the season.
But the Tigers haven’t faced Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson, and coach Tommy Parks admitted even that will be new territory.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a guy like this kid,” he said. “It’ll be new territory for us.”
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Only a junior, Watson is already sixth all-time in the state of Georgia in career passing yards. With 3,053 yards this season, he has upped his career total to 8,392 yards, less than 700 yards shy of the state record (9,062, by Metter’s Zach Stanford), and he still has his senior year left to play. He has completed 70 percent of his passes and has tossed 41 touchdown passes this season (compared to just seven interceptions), putting him within striking distance of the career passing touchdowns mark (103), too.
Couple that with his impressive running ability (1,117 yards and 19 touchdowns this season), and you have a player that can tip the scales firmly in his team’s direction.
The young quarterback has already committed to play college ball at Clemson, though he claims offers from Auburn, Florida State and Ohio State, among others.
“A large part of what we’ve done has been Deshaun,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “It’s the second year in a row he’s passed for 3,000 and run for 1,000. He’s accounted for 60 touchdowns. He’s done a great job spreading the ball around to different guys.”
Four different Gainesville receivers have caught 30 or more passes for 400 or more yards this season.
“In this offense, I have weapons all over the field,” Watson said. “I have four receivers that I can count on. I have a lot of guys that I can count on. I have two very good running backs who can run and catch the ball. The offensive line works really hard every practice to protect me. I’m just blessed to have the teammates that I have.”
More dangerous than Watson’s athleticism and passing ability is his maturity and understanding of the game.
Miller has praised Watson’s work ethic in the past, stating firmly that his ability to dissect film and apply it to a game is as impressive as any player he’s coached.
As a sophomore in 2011, Watson was given plenty of leeway to check out of plays on the field, and the results were evident. He led the Red Elephants to the Class AAA semifinals, upsetting top-ranked Sandy Creek (ending a 41-game winning streak) along the way.
This year, he’s become even more polished.
“I’ve worked on my accuracy and my footwork,” Watson said. “I stay in the pocket more. I’m very experienced with my offense. Every practice I’m working on being more accurate.
“Coaches always say be greedy with yards. So, if it’s a swing pass to the running back, I’m working on my accuracy to lead him and help him get those extra yards.”
And he’s working on his speed, too.
“I am (working on speed,” he said. “The defense, if they drop back and cover, I can take off. When I step up in the pocket, a lot of people think I’ll take off, but then I can find a wide receiver. So it helps a lot to work on speed.”
And his leadership pays dividends, too.
Watson speaks like a seasoned veteran, a player that knows the big picture beyond all the noise surrounding every playoff game.
Speaking about the effect of momentum in the playoffs, something Harris County has more of than just about any team still alive in the playoffs, Watson was measured in his response.
Yes, he understood the impact of momentum, but no, that didn’t worry him.
“We don’t get caught up in the hype and how many games they’ve won,” he said. “We just take it as another game. We’ve played a lot of teams with momentum. I’m just trying to get my guys prepared, trying to stay humble and take it one game at a time.
“We aren’t even looking at Friday yet. We prepare each day so that we can get to Friday and give ourselves a chance. We know Harris County will be fired up, but we’re used to big games like this.”
With all that said, Harris County isn’t backing down (as if you’d expect them to).
Parks said the he knows the type of player that is awaiting his team, and they’re excited.
“We’re excited for the challenge,” he said. “These are the kind of things that get you excited. We know what we’re up against, and we’re ready to give it everything we’ve got. It’ll be fun.”
Come back to the Valley Preps Blog on Friday for a look at the Buford High football team, which will face Carver in the Class AAA quarterfinals. And, as always, follow David on Twitter