CLEMSON, South Carolina — Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson dazzled once more, even in a game that didn't count.
Watson, who led the Tigers to the Atlantic Coast Conference title and an appearance in the College Football Playoff championship game last season, threw two touchdowns in his first — and perhaps, only — spring game.
Watson enrolled in January 2014, but broke a collarbone in spring drills to miss that season's game. He was rehabbing a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year and was again on the sidelines. This time, though, a healthy and in-command Watson put on a show for the record 50,500 fans at Death Valley.
"It was pretty good being around the guys and compete," Watson said. "Just get things ready.
Watson looked ready. The All-America quarterback hit Hunter Renfrow for a 47-yard gain on his first pass, and the two connected again to close the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Watson, playing for both the Orange and the White teams early, followed that with a sweet, arching 61-yard pass that settled comfortably in Ray Ray McCloud's hands for a second score. The crowd stood and cheered, dreaming of bigger moments ahead.
Watson went 7 of 11 for 141 yards in his brief outing as the Orange team defeated the White team 17-9.
He didn't play the final three quarters, instead standing about 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage watching Clemson's backups run the offense. He'd chat with head coach Dabo Swinney or raise his arms in celebration when reserve passer Nick Schuessler found tight end Cannon Smith for a scoring pass.
Watson finished last season with 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns passing. He rushed for 1,105 yards and 12 additional scores. His national profile was only enhanced in the CFP championship game when Watson accounted for 478 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-40 loss to Alabama.
If Watson achieves his goals this fall — he has said he wants to bring the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff and complete his degree by December — it's likely he'll strongly consider the NFL. More and more evaluators are putting Watson's name atop the 2017 draft board.
Watson's acknowledged thinking about it, especially with several members of last year's ACC champions (defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, cornerback Mackensie Alexander) regarded as potential first-round picks in this month's draft.
Those are topics Watson isn't worrying about now.
"I just focus on what I can do now," he said. "All that stuff is going to take care of itself. All of it changes. My focus is on academics and graduating in December then putting in the work and grinding with my teammates so we can have a successful year and finish the deal."
Watson still has room for growth, quarterback coach Brandon Streeter said. Streeter, a former Tiger passer, said Watson can improve his footwork, his technique and his pass selection. Streeter said the two continually discuss how Watson, a poised and calm 20-year-old, can evolve into more a leader than he's been.
"He's not a vocal guy as we all know, but players gravitate towards him and when he talks, when he speaks, everybody listens," Streeter said. "So as a leader you can always grow, so I challenged him to find ways, find leadership opportunities to pull guys with you."
Swinney said Watson improved since practice began on Feb. 29 and he expects the growth to continue throughout the offseason.
"He understands that he was an All-American last year," Swinney said. "He knows he's just the same as all these other guys this year. He's got to go out and prove and I know he will."
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org