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How Deshaun Watson is finding inspiration amid chaotic season

Although the Texans have been a mess, their Pro Bowl quarterback has shined while also experiencing a newfound appreciation for art

Deshaun Watson laughed before the question was completed, figuring where things were headed the moment the Detroit Lions were mentioned. In an apparent display of appreciation, many Lions fans reportedly donated to Watson’s charity after the Pro Bowl quarterback led the Houston Texans to a 41-25 blowout victory on Thanksgiving that contributed to the ouster of embattled Detroit head coach Matt Patricia two days later.

Watson welcomes the contributions. But the boost from an opponent’s fans was unexpected.

“Yeah, I saw that, and that was crazy. Very crazy,” Watson said on the phone Wednesday night, his comment punctuated by yet another chuckle. “I was very happy about it. Not about the firings or anything like that. I just appreciate all the Detroit Lions fans, and all the people who donate, for what they do, because helping people means a lot to me. I’m just passionate about it.”

This weekend, his efforts continue.

A screenshot from Deshaun Watson’s Instagram page showing off his cleats for Week 13.

@deshaunwatson

As part of the NFL’s Week 13 My Cause My Cleats game, Watson partnered with Nike and designer King Saladeen on his custom pair of cleats that will be auctioned to raise funds for the Deshaun Watson Foundation. According to its website, Watson’s foundation is “dedicated to education, health, housing and other charitable causes that support families and youth in underserved communities.”

Earlier this year, Watson – among the cadre of young, star Black passers now atop the NFL – and Saladeen met at an event in New York City and quickly bonded. “We came through some tough backgrounds, some tough cities and tough neighborhoods, and we didn’t have too much,” Watson said. “Since we’ve met up, the vibe is just mutual and authentic.

“We’re trying to inspire our communities, everyone, but especially the young people, and it’s about love, good energy and just positive energy. We want kids to look at things, look at art for the first time or maybe in a different way, and maybe have them think about doing something they didn’t think they could.”

In addition to the bright, bold artwork painted on Watson’s Nike cleats, Saladeen and Watson have collaborated on other projects, including a limited-edition cover for Watson’s book, Pass It On. And there’s much more to come, Saladeen said.

“We’re from the same place. Not the actual city but the same type [of upbringing], and just seeing two young brothers working together to give back is inspiring to me,” Saladeen said. “It’s all about inspiration and trying to give back to the next generation … and art really inspires.”

More than even Watson had ever imagined. The 25-year-old quarterback said he has gained a new perspective from Saladeen, whose style can best be described as pop or abstract art.

“As I’m learning from Saladeen, art is just about how you feel,” Watson said. “It’s really about how you want to put out a picture or a painting, and what you want to put in it. You control that. You control everything that you’re feeling. With me, I’m learning a lot about art, about life and how I feel about certain situations. It just kind of opens your eyes.

“When I see a certain picture or certain designs, different colors and how it all comes together, all that stuff can relate to the football field and daily life. It all inspires you to just kind of step back and really think about what’s there. In football and in life, seeing things clearly, thinking about the picture in a different way, is only going to help you.”

Watson’s new, enlightened perspective has helped him thrive during a chaotic season for the Texans.

In a lopsided trade, the Texans erred in sending DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the league’s best wide receiver, to the Arizona Cardinals before the season. Head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien was fired after an 0-4 start, and Houston started 1-6.

Obviously, Watson had hoped for something much better, especially after he signed the second-biggest contract in NFL history in September – a four-year, $160 million extension that put him behind only his friend, Kansas City Chiefs signal-caller Patrick Mahomes.

Perpetually optimistic and focused, Watson is still having another stellar season statistically. He had four touchdown passes against the Lions, and has 15 touchdowns without an interception in his past 200 pass attempts spanning six games.

Although the Texans have many problems, the quarterback position is not among them.

“You have to always be prepared for anything to happen,” Watson said. “I’m definitely proud of myself. I’m definitely encouraged in the way I continue to grow as a man, as a football player and as a quarterback with all the things that have been going on around me.”

Watson has received encouragement from a close circle of friends, including Mahomes, who praised Watson’s Thanksgiving performance on Twitter.

Watson appreciates the support.

“Me and Pat have known each other since early, early college days. We used to train together in Southern California in the offseason,” Watson recalled. “At the collegiate level, I had all the hype at Clemson University. He was doing his thing at Texas Tech, throwing for like 7,000 yards and making all these crazy plays and touchdowns. He always supported me then and I supported him. So why shouldn’t we support each other right now?

“I want my organization to be able to turn it around and focus on the right things and get us on the right track. And we’re going to be where the Kansas City Chiefs are sooner than later. But at the same time, it’s his time. He’s been doing everything he needs to be doing and that team is winning. You got to salute that. I’m all about good energy and trying to learn and live a good life.”

Despite the Texans’ troubles, Watson is shining on the field, broadening his horizons off of it and still striving to inspire others. Clearly, there’s more than one way to be an artist.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.