ARLINGTON, Texas — If you were to construct a quarterback from scratch, he would look something like this: 6'6" and 215 pounds with ample room to grow and mature. He would showcase a silky but economical throwing motion powered by a golden right shoulder.
And sure, to cap it all off, he might have long, flowing hair dangling below his helmet—perfect for the look of a big star made famous by the likes of Troy Polamalu, Clay Matthews and Marshawn Lynch before him.
Somehow, Trevor Lawrence has done the remarkable in his first year at Clemson. He has lived up to and surpassed even the wildest expectations that were bestowed upon him since he arrived. One of the most coveted high school quarterback prospects of the past decade, Lawrence has looked the part.
Just a year removed from putting the finishing touches on a dominant four-year stretch at Cartersville High School, Lawrence was at the center of it all. There he was in mammoth AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, looking nothing like a 19-year-old true freshman QB thrust into the biggest moment of his life.
That moment—a 30-3 drubbing against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, resulting in the Tigers' third trip to the national championship in the past four seasons—showcased all that Lawrence is capable of.
"This is what he has done his whole life," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said on the field following the win. "He was doing this as a freshman in high school—winning state championships in the state of Georgia where football is king. When he came in during the spring, he showed who he was."
Early on, it didn't necessarily look that way. Lawrence and the Tigers looked sluggish. Off. Out of sync. Perhaps it was the long layoff after the ACC Championship. Or maybe it simply took a young player a quarter to find his rhythm.
Regardless, Lawrence delivered one of the most dominant 15-minute stretches of football of the season—a quarter that would distance Clemson from Notre Dame and all but decide the outcome. In those 15 minutes, he completed 13 of his 15 throws for 229 yards and three touchdowns.
"Just wanting to score every time we get the ball," Lawrence said after the game on the second quarter, which culminated in a touchdown just before halftime. "Wasn't really thinking about the next drive at that point. Just trying to score on that drive. That was awesome."
For the game, Lawrence finished with 327 passing yards and three scores. And his numbers could've been far better. The team's starting wideouts, including Justyn Ross, a fellow freshman who exploded with 148 yards and two touchdowns, were out of the game early in the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth, Lawrence was out of the game himself.
"The guy is unbelievable," wideout Tee Higgins said. "He's been dialed in since he's been the starter. Trevor being Trevor."
"He's OK," Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins joked after the win. "He's an above-average player."
Consider that Lawrence did not secure the starting job until about a month into the season. Up until then, he shared snaps with Kelly Bryant—the QB who orchestrated Clemson's playoff run last year. When head coach Dabo Swinney made the move to go to Lawrence, Bryant left the program and recently announced he would play next year at Missouri.
Since being named starter, Lawrence has flashed brilliance. He finished the regular season with 25 total touchdowns and only four interceptions. He was billed as the next great quarterback in college football—a quarterback so gifted that Hunter Johnson, a former 5-star recruit for the Tigers, transferred to Northwestern not long after Lawrence arrived—knowing what he was up against.
"I definitely envisioned him being a great player," Swinney said after the game. "There's no question about that. That's why we recruited him. And after four games, I felt like he deserved to go start. He had great understanding and command of what we were doing. He just has done an incredible job."
Against Notre Dame, Lawrence was calm even early on when the offense struggled. And then he showcased his arm on a handful of gorgeous deep balls that broke the game open. In many ways, this was the performance that was a matter of time.
There had been signs all year. This was a glimpse into the present and the future.
The present is an opportunity to bring another national championship to Clemson and announce himself to the sport even louder than he already has. The future, however, is even more fascinating.
If this is what Lawrence is capable of now, what will the finished product look like next season? Or even the year after? At the moment, all that matters are the next nine days. But it's hard not to at least wonder where this is all leading.
One couldn't help but ponder the thought as the Cotton Bowl finally came to an end. The players, coaches and media members swarmed Lawrence at the 50-yard line. Spotlights went on. Tape recorders fired up. The spotlight that has been expected for years was finally here.
With all eyes on him, at the center of one of the biggest football venues in the world, he looked at ease. Not nervous or anxious or relieved or even overjoyed. He certainly looked nothing like a true freshman putting the final touches on a football masterpiece. He was right where he was supposed to be.