Deshaun Watson understood before he arrived at Clemson the unique role of the starting quarterback.
Watson wanted to lead, and the team responded, winning its first 12 games during his sophomore season and climbing to No. 1 in the polls.
His chief objective this week was preparing for Saturday’s game with North Carolina in Charlotte, for the ACC Championship and securing a berth in the College Football Playoff. That, he said Monday, “was where we wanted to be.”
“We knew it was going to take a lot of grinding and hard work and dedication, and just staying focused on the task,” he said, “and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Watson was one of two unanimous choices to the 2015 All-Atlantic Coast Conference football team. He and five teammates from the Atlantic Division champions were voted to the first team by the Atlantic Coast Media Association. A total of 17 Clemson players were honored, including the entire offensive line.
“Right now it’s about the team,” Watson said. As a candidate for several national awards, including the Heisman Trophy, he welcomed the notoriety but recognized he was not in it alone.
“It’s not just me working and achieving those goals, it’s the whole team working, motivating me, pushing me,” he said. Clemson was a six-point favorite by Las Vegas oddsmakers. “It’s a team thing around here. That’s what we focus on.”
Joining Watson on the first team were guard Eric Mac Lain, receiver Artavis Scott, corner Mackensie Alexander, defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins. Mac Lain is the lone senior.
Running back Wayne Gallman, center Jay Guillermo, tight end Jordan Leggett, kicker Greg Huegel, linebackers Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson and safety Jayron Kearse made the second team. Guard Tyrone Crowder, corner Cordrea Tankersley and offensive tackles Joe Gore and Mitch Hyatt were third team.
Watson concluded the regular season with an ACC-best 3,979 yards of total offense and 36 total touchdowns. A finalist for the Maxwell and O’Brien awards, he also leads the conference with a 161.9 passing efficiency, and is second with 268.6 passing yards per game.
Sophomore running back Dalvin Cook of Florida State was the other unanimous selection to the first team. North Carolina, the Coastal Division champion, had 13 players honored, including Ryan Switzer, who was selected as a return specialist and receiver.
Watson, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, could complete a wire-to-wire run when the league announces the winner this week. Focus, he said, blocks out the ambient distractions.
“I just try to keep life simple,” he said, adding he would welcome a chance to attend the Heisman ceremonies in New York City next week.
“Of course,” he said, “I’m going to embrace it, have fun with it. I’ve never been to New York, so it would be my first time.”
Tigers vs. Tar Heels
What: ACC Championship
Who: North Carolina vs. Clemson
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte