Before becoming the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson got a head start on his football career as a 14-year-old ball boy for the Atlanta Falcons.
According to ESPN, Watson spent the summer before his freshman year of high school working at the Falcons' practice facility, which was just 10 minutes away from his childhood home in Georgia. As a young teen, Watson picked up footballs during practice, took care of the team's equipment and folded towels. "Anything that the players needed," he said, "we took care of."
That experience, Watson added, "taught me how to really work hard." He explained that as a young kid who always hoped to play in the NFL, his job as a ball boy showed him what was possible for his future if he remained determined and focused on his goals.
"I always think about it," Watson, now 24, said. "That's something that helped change my life. Especially during the times off the field ... the way I was raised and the environment I was living in. It helped me see another side of what I can be and what I can become."
In an essay for The Players' Tribune, Watson talked about his rough upbringing in a single-parent home, where his mom worked multiple jobs to take care of her four kids. "For most of my childhood, we lived in government housing in Gainesville, Georgia, where I always played pickup football and basketball with the older kids, some of them drug dealers and gang members," he wrote.
Watson said he and his family's life changed for the better when he was 11. His mom, who worked as a volunteer building homes with Habitat for Humanity, finally qualified for a new home of her own. "We moved into a brand-new Habitat home that had been furnished by Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, through his charity," Watson wrote.
As a ball boy for the Falcons, the young quarterback shared how he built a close relationship with many of the players and detailed how some even came to his high school football games to see him play.
"S---, I knew he was a hell of a quarterback," said wide receiver Julio Jones, who was drafted by the Falcons one year after Watson started working at the practice facility. "I tried to get him to go to Alabama."
Watson, who attended Clemson University instead, emphasized that this Sunday's game, Oct. 6 against the Falcons, will be a full-circle moment for him. Already, he said, he's looking forward to seeing Kenny Osuwah, who is still the team's equipment manager, and he's looking forward to speaking with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan at some point on game day.
"I know a lot of those guys sit there and watch him," Falcons former receivers coach Terry Robiskie told ESPN, "and, like me, they're just amazed at how far he's come and where it all came from and where it all started."
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!