815. It’s the number Deshaun Watson writes on his wristband in permanent marker before every football game. It’s the number of his old address in Gainesville, Georgia: 815 Harrison Square.
If you know Clemson Football, you know Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who led the Tigers to back-to-back College Football Playoff National Championship games and clinched the title his junior year in 2017. Who can forget that last-minute fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a legendary pass from Watson to Hunter Renfrow in the endzone for the win?
But not everyone knows the whole story of Deshaun Watson, including the story of 815 Harrison Square. For him, the address means more than growing up in a government housing complex. It means creating dozens of imaginary teams on NCAA Football on his first PlayStation; it means pretending to be JJ Redick, former guard at Duke, on the pickup basketball court; and it means committing to Clemson at the young age of 16. It means his mother’s triumph over tongue cancer.
This year, Watson took the opportunity to tell his story in his own words, writing his first book, Pass It On, which was released in September.
“I feel like a lot of people know where I’m from, but they don’t understand what I had to get through to be able to make it to who I am today,” Watson says. “I was the chosen one. I was blessed. It was amazing when I got drafted and even when I got a scholarship to Clemson. No one in my neighborhood even thought about that; we were just hoping that we’d graduate from high school.”
But Pass it On is about more than Watson’s past and his rise to the NFL. It’s also about courage, seizing opportunities and leadership. In his book, Watson describes himself as a “servant leader.” Rather than leading for power or personal gain, he leads with his teammates in mind, their health and their success. “My mom always taught me to be that way because she was that way,” he says. “She always made sure that everyone around her was great before she was, and the blessings came.”
For Watson, servant leadership applies on and off the field. This summer, he had the chance to voice his support for the recent name change of the University’s honors college and sign a petition organized by the student body.
“With everything going on now and with students on campus getting their voices heard, it was a perfect opportunity,” Watson says. “The board was behind us; I felt like for them to change it that fast, they were on board for a long time. That just shows you that the University was looking the right way.”