Roughly 10 miles up the road from the Atlanta Falcons Team Headquarters, in the small town of Gainesville, Ga., Clemson QB and Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson was offered the opportunity to work for his favorite NFL football team, an experience that would help pave the way to an exceptional football career.
For the past 14 years, the Atlanta Falcons organization has partnered with the Hall County Boys & Girls Club to find young men to assist on the team’s equipment staff at XFINITY® Training Camp. As a youth mentor for the Boys & Girls Club, Watson jumped at the opportunity to work for the Falcons.
“To have the opportunity to really see how the NFL lifestyle was and how those guys work and train, because that’s where I want to be in the future,” Watson said.
After one interview with the Falcons, it was evident to everyone on the equipment staff that Watson possessed the qualities needed to be a successful member of the group.
“When we interview the ball boys, we look for leadership,” Falcons equipment manager Brian Boigner said. “You could tell Deshaun was a leader when we interviewed him."
As a ball boy for the Falcons, Watson’s daily responsibilities were the following: to set up the field for his assigned position group (wide receivers), assist in individual drills, clean the locker room and help with laundry.
“The way they prepare before practice and warm up, it’s a real job, it’s a real lifestyle,” Watson said. “Learning from those guys, seeing how those guys run routes really prepared me for this level and hopefully for the future.”
As Watson thrived at Gainesville High, he still continued to return to work XFINITY® Training Camp prior to the start of his season. In turn, the equipment staff became reliant upon Watson and his leadership skills to guide the young men on staff.
“All the ball boys looked up to him,” Falcons assistant equipment manager Jimmy Hay said of Watson. “Anytime there was an issue at the dorm or one of the kids wasn’t working as hard as we thought he should, we could always go to [Deshaun] and he would handle it for us. It was a special thing that he had about himself.”
Two years after his final season helping the Falcons, Watson’s humble and unassuming demeanor still resonates with those who had the privilege of getting to know him.
"He won a state championship on a Saturday night, and the next day he was picking up Gatorade cups and folding towels at a Falcons home game," said Hay.
Watson’s physical talent coupled with his unwavering work ethic has led the Clemson Tigers to the College Football Playoff National Championship.
The Falcons once gave a young man a chance of a lifetime, and now Watson has the chance to make another lasting memory when he takes the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday night.
“Deshaun Watson was very hard working here, and it translates to what you see on the field at Clemson, ” Boigner said.