Chad Morris did not want to leave Deshaun Watson. Morris was offered the head coaching job at Southern Methodist after the 2014 season, a chance to run his own team near his Texas hometown. As offensive coordinator he had recruited Watson to Clemson, and Watson had come to feel like family. Watson attended his kids’ volleyball games. Morris admired so many of his qualities – his gratitude, his humility, his diligence.

“Single-handedly, he was one of the reasons I almost didn’t leave,” Morris said last year. “Before I took the job I called him. We talked long and hard. Truly, if he would have said, ‘Hey, Coach …’ who knows what would have happened? He said, ‘This is an opportunity for you to get closer to your family. It’s an opportunity you may never get again.’ This is a freshman, and I’m calling him to give me his endorsement.”

College football will soon understand what Morris felt, what it is like to part with Watson – to be sad the relationship is over, but to know on a deep level it became better for the experience.

Watson played the final game of his junior season Monday night and delivered a magical performance in Clemson’s 35-31 triumph over Alabama. Given his talent and achievements, it doubled as the final game of Watson’s college career, with the NFL calling. He delivered an ultimate cap to an ultimate career, ending Alabama’s 26-game winning streak with a last-second touchdown pass.

Put aside Watson’s brilliance. Never mind the 420 passing yards, the three throwing touchdowns, the rushing score, the two go-ahead touchdown drives in the final five minutes. Imagine the courage required to invite bodily harm 77 times against Alabama’s violent and alarming defense. Consider the strength, of every kind, needed to keep walking across the coals, and not once, until the final kneel-down, possessing the ball with the lead. Watson threw 56 times and ran another 21 with the weight of his team on his shoulders.

On Clemson’s first possession, linebacker Reuben Foster blasted him in the helmet as another Alabama player had his legs wrapped up. It was astonishing no flag was thrown. The hit seemed to daze him, to make him an unwilling participant. He grew tentative when holes opened and lost his dazzling ability to surge through the line. The Tigers fell behind 14-0 and mustered nothing on offense. Clemson was intimidated, reeling, staring at a blowout.

And then Watson recaptured himself. He hit Deon Cain on a crucial screen pass to create momentum. He danced into the corner of the end zone, tip-toeing by the pylon. Clemson trailed by only a touchdown, 14-7, at the half.

Even for Watson, a comeback seemed impossible. Against Power Five opponents, Alabama allowed 13 second-half points combined in its last seven games. Coach Nick Saban had been 97-0 when entering the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead.

But Watson’s varied talents and Clemson’s pace flipped Alabama’s advantage, and the Tigers started to wear down the Tide defense. Watson’s accuracy improved and he settled into a rhythm. Wide receiver Mike Williams became a monster. His touchdown on a fade early in the fourth sliced the lead to 24-21.

The Tigers trailed by the same score when Watson took over with 6:33 remaining. He drove the Tigers 88 yards in six plays, the signature play a 15-yard glide down to the 1. A play later, Wayne Gallman plowed into the end zone.

Watson’s work was still not done. Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts scampered for a go-ahead touchdown. Watson got the ball back, down three points, at his own 32 with 2:07 left. “Let’s be legendary,” Watson told the huddle. “Let’s be great.”

“It was calm,” Watson said.

Know his background, and the calm starts to make sense. Watson grew up in government housing until he brought a Habitat for Humanity brochure home from church to his mother, who looked into the program and signed up. “What could be worse?” she thought. She helped build her own home and raised Watson in it until he reached his sophomore year of high school. She received a diagnosis of tongue cancer and Watson’s aunt looked after him while she underwent treatments.

“I didn’t even know it at first,” said Bruce Miller, Watson’s coach at Gainesville High. “Deshaun just keeps things inside him. He’s very quiet natured until you get to talking to him. He’s very level-headed. He just handles everything. It upset him but it didn’t deflate him.”

Watson completed his first five passes on the final drive, inviting punishment and flinging with accuracy. A pass interference call put the ball on the Alabama 2 with six seconds left. Watson rolled right. Hunter Renfrow ran an out pattern, helped by a rub from Artavis Scott. Watson tossed it to Renfrow, open in the end zone. Only one second remained and Watson had climbed the mountain.

He had completed the ascension of Clemson from regional disappointment to national power. He inspired. He encouraged his teammates to join him building houses for others through Habitat for Humanity.

Monday night, as he cradled the national championship trophy, Watson had nothing left to give college football. He will leave the sport, but he will not be forgotten.

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