Friday May 25th, 2018 5:12AM

(VIDEOS) From state to national champ, the evolution of Watson always a visual treat

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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From the time he first set foot on a varsity gridiron it was obvious: Deshaun Watson was destined for big things.

And he did not disappoint, taking Gainesville football to the pinnacle with the Red Elephants' first GHSA championship in 2012. And he has not stopped since, taking Clemson to its first national championship since 1981 on Monday night.

Watson put up a thrilling, gutty performance in the 2017 College Football Playoff, but it came as no shock to anyone who watched his progression and ability on the fields of northeast Georgia from 2010-13.

We had a front-row seat for all of it, and he took us on a thrill ride we will never forget.

So while the nation continues to mop up the drool over Watson's final performance for Clemson (he made it official on Tuesday) we decided to take a trip down memory lane and re-live some of the moments that had us believing -- years ago -- that moments like Monday's were on the horizon.

Come along with us as we take you back through a few moments of Watson magic... (NOTE: Click on the links to watch videos AccessWDUN created of Watson through the years.)

  • After an impressive freshman season, Watson began his ascent into the stratosphere with a sophomore campaign that featured a win over then-No. 1 Sandy Creek to break into the state semifinals. He was named the Gainesville Jaycees Player of the Year for his efforts and began to draw serious collegiate attention, eventually committing his future to Clemson. It was only a hint of what was to come.
  • Watson took his hot finish to 2011 and continued to build on that momentum during the 2012 season. Take a listen to the numbers in this 2012 Player of the Week award presentation. They are jaw-dropping.
  • Yet Watson also showed he -- and his teammates -- could handle adversity in 2012 after they dropped the last two games of the regular season, entering the playoffs as a No. 2 seed. We know how that ended, however -- as Watson led the Red Elephants in a demolition of Ware County in the 2012 Class AAAAA championship game.
  • At that point the accolades had begun to roll in from everywhere. But instead of resting on his laurels, Deshaun Watson spent the summer between his junior and senior year working harder than ever before
  • It showed during the season, as Watson helped lead his team through a dominant regular season -- the only blemish a loss to a loaded Buford team that went 15-0 -- full of jaw-dropping performances that were by then bread-and-butter for the signal caller
  • It did not end perfectly, however, as weather and a tough Tucker team conspired to halt Gainesville's run in the state semifinals. But Watson did all he could in the battle cementing a legacy that was already tops at one of the most tradition-rich programs in the state.
  • Moving on to the next level, Watson flashed just what he was about as a freshman in 2014, taking control of the offense at Clemson and impressing in a campaign cut short by injury. And by the time he was a sophomore -- just like at the high school level -- Watson was starting to play at a level above everyone else. Quarterbacking the Tigers into the CFP Championship game and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy race. It was a campaign that had every high school football fan in northeast Georgia nodding smugly. After all, we saw this coming.
  • After coming so close to winning it all, Watson charged into the 2016 season with his usual focus -- which, allied with the experiences of the previous season, had the Tigers flying high in everyone's preseason expectations. Watson knew it and was determined to succeed as he entered his final collegiate spring.  
  • And while the 2016 contained a few roller-coaster moments, Watson rolled through it all, leading the orange charge right back into title contention. And while there was Heisman disappointment again, the quarterback claimed a much more valuable piece of hardware, leading Clemson back to the top to cap an incredible collegiate career.

It is still incredible to think that the player that vanquished Alabama's vaunted defense was once a skinny, insanely-talented kid running around, over and through high school defenses here in our backyard. But nothing seems impossible for Watson, and we're only looking forward to the next chapter and continuing that thrilling ride.

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