Amid the red and white jerseys at practice this week at Notre Dame Prep High School are a number of players wearing orange jerseys for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Those players are running Clemson plays and getting the Buckeyes ready for the Fiesta Bowl.
Freshman Dwayne Haskins has worn No. 4. He is Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, or the closest version of Watson the Buckeyes will see until 7 p.m. Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
“We’ve had over 700-something snaps from Clemson from our scout team this bowl season,” Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “So we’ve had a lot of preparation. We’ve had a lot of different looks.”
Watson faces one of his biggest challenges Saturday, and he faces a big decision after this game or after the national championship game should Clemson beat Ohio State. Pro Football Focus predicted the Cleveland Browns would draft Watson with the No. 1 pick should he turn pro. Watson said Wednesday in a press conference at the Camelback Inn he has thought about the decision and would make his decision public after the season.
Clemson coaches will support whatever choice the junior Watson makes.
“That’s Deshaun’s decision,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “I’m extremely grateful to Deshaun Watson because he’s made me a better person, and he’s made me a better coach. He put Clemson into the position that we’re in. He owes us nothing else. He already has his college degree. He’s put himself in the position, if he wants to move on to the next level. So that’s on him. I won’t talk about it. The only conversation I’ll have with him is, ‘Hey, understand that when you make that decision, if you do decide you want to move on, surround yourself with good people. You’re a little bit insulated here at Clemson because of the environment, the culture we have. But when you step into that arena, there’s going to be a lot of people that are going to want to prey on your good heart.”
Ohio State coaches know Watson well because he almost became a Buckeye. He was one of the top recruits in 2013.
“Ohio State, they were actually my second choice,” Watson said. “I grew up an Urban Meyer fan. I loved the way he coached, loved the way he did things. I was a big Tim Tebow fan. Growing up Florida was the school I was going to. And then he left Florida and then became the coach at Ohio State and he came down to visit. And my eyes was wide open because he was the coach I dreamed of watching.”
At that point, Watson said, he had already committed to Clemson.
“I was going to stay true to my word,” Watson said. “I just fell in love with the Tigers and wanted to stay down south. It was nothing against Ohio State. They were my second choice if I wouldn’t have went to Clemson.”