GAINESVILLE, Ga. - In a town that roots for the Red Elephants at the high school, with plenty of Bulldog red with Athens about 40 miles away, there's lots of orange these days. That's because Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of their own.
"[Watson] was just a kid who had a dream," said Centennial Arts Academy principal Leslie Frierson. "It's just pretty exciting."
Watson is on the verge of leading Clemson to a football national championship as they get ready to face Alabama in Monday night's title game. Back home, those who knew him best remember a quiet, selfless young man who led Gainesville High School to a state title in 2012. These days, he's something of a celebrity, getting called up in front of the congregation at church and shaking every hand extended to him.
"When I tell people all the time he's good, he's a lot better kid than he is a player," said Gainesville High School football coach Bruce Miller.
Miller was in the audience in New York City as Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist this year. He remembers Watson staying out of the limelight as his teammates hoisted the state championship trophy in 2012. He remembers being struck by, for such a talented kid, how down to earth Watson was.
"This community just, they adore him because of how he is," said Miller. "He's a legacy. He's a legend here, that's just because Deshaun's who he is."
There's plenty of Clemson gear around town, especially at Longstreet Cafe, one of Watson's favorite restaurants. The large rock in a park near the high school is painted orange with "Beat Bama" on the side.
Flanked by her two young nephews, each wearing Watson jerseys they got for Christmas, Frierson says the quarterback is someone the whole community can look up to.
"It's encouraging for [my nephews] and for all the kids that love him just to see you can have a dream and you can make it happen," said Frierson.
Watson and Clemson face Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship on Monday at 8:30pm in Glendale, Arizona.