The Moments That Shaped Trevor Lawrence

Matt Hayes@matthayescfbSenior National College Football WriterJanuary 9, 2020

B/R

CLEMSON, S.C. — This is the Trevor Lawrence you don't know. The young, ever-changing man inside the all-world college football player few outside his bubble have ever seen.     

We know about the special way the Clemson quarterback sees the field. About his pristine college record, the 29-game winning streak he and the Tigers carry into Monday's national championship game against LSU. About his hyped future, a player one NFL scout tells B/R is the best quarterback prospect since John Elway and "probably the best ever."

But Lawrence is bored with talking about those things, honestly.

Ask him what has made him the player and person he is, though, and he opens up.

In fact, he asks for extra time to consider the question, wanting a few days of thinking to make sure he gets a list of seminal moments just right before sitting down with Bleacher Report to discuss them.

"This is important to me," Lawrence says.

Richard Shiro/Associated Press
Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Then the (still) biggest name in college football and the most anticipated future NFL player in decades launches into it, from those who have brought him to this point as a football player to those who have led him to inner peace, to being this 20-year-old who lives beyond the superhero status of fall Saturdays.

"Trevor has this uncommon DNA that you just don't see every day," says Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "And the best part? Football is just the facilitator for greater things in life."

    

'He had been through it'

Lawrence met Joey King in the spring before his ninth grade season. Then the coach at Cartersville High in Georgia (currently the tight ends coach at USF), King had already heard about this player he had to see.

Lawrence was about 6'5" when he strolled into a football meeting of eighth graders who were interested in playing as freshmen.

"He was easy to spot in that first meeting," King says. "He was a head-and-a-half taller than everyone as an eighth grader. The first time I saw him throw, we had a bad snap in practice, ball on the ground. He reaches down with his eyes still on the field, stabs at the ball, picks it up with one hand and throws a strike down the field. I remember thinking, 'OK, boys, I think we've got something here.'"

Six months after the first meeting, and three games into his freshman season, Lawrence was playing so well as a co-starter on the varsity that King was forced into an uncomfortable meeting with his junior quarterback, current Alabama tight end Miller Forristall.

King could no longer keep Lawrence off the field.

"Everybody knew about him from day one when he stepped on campus," Forristall says. "We heard chatter that this freshman was coming in and he was all-world. I said, 'I'll believe it when I see it.' Then this 6'5" kid comes in, and he throws the first ball, and you believe it really quick. It's hard to tell a 17-year-old kid that God has created the universe and this is his divine plan. I worked my butt off for that job. I deserved it. I wasn't mad at Trevor; he's such a great guy. But in hindsight, losing the job and moving to tight end was by far the best thing that could've happened to me."

And for the team. By the end of that season, Lawrence had thrown for 3,053 yards and 26 touchdowns. Three years later, he had set the state career passing records for yards (13,908) and touchdowns (161), had a 52-2 record as a starter, a 41-game winning streak and two state titles.

Lawrence on the moment: "Looking back now, meeting Joey made a huge impact on me. He was 32 and played quarterback in college. He had been through it. He understood everything that was going on and kept me levelheaded. We talked so much more about life than football. We still call and text all the time. To this day, when we talk, it's not about football. He asks me, 'How are things? How's your heart?' Those are the people everyone needs. The people who are there for who you are—not what you are."

     

'What if I didn't meet with him that day?'

Brandon Streeter knows the ground rules as Clemson's quarterbacks coach, but you'd better believe he broke them in 2014 when the tall kid with the rocket arm showed up at summer camp.

Swinney doesn't offer high school players until their sophomore seasons. And he sure as heck doesn't deal with freshmen at one of his camps when he's trying to recruit juniors and seniors.

But Streeter knew this had to be an exception.

For Lawrence, the first college letter came in the ninth grade, and the first scholarship offer wasn't long after that. King had a basket outside his office at Cartersville, and that's where the letters and offers went. It filled up quickly. By the time Lawrence was 15, the letters were piling up to the extent the post office decided it couldn't deliver that volume to the high school, so it started sending bags to the Lawrence house instead.

Clemson wasn't really on Lawrence's radar back in 2014, though. He was only in town for the camp because a high school assistant coach had convinced him to take a look.

Streeter knew this, and there was no way he was letting this player get out of town without a sit-down with Swinney.

"To this day, I don't know how I convinced him to talk to Trevor," Streeter says. "But really, all you had to do was look at [Lawrence] and watch him throw, and my gosh, it's easy to see."

And once Swinney saw him, he agreed.

"Streeter is begging me to just take five minutes and meet with this guy," Swinney says. "So I'm in my office, and I'll never forget it. [Lawrence] walks in looking like Ichabod Crane, just elbows and knees. He's 6'6". I said: 'Holy cow! You're a ninth grader?'

"I know nothing about him. I have not seen one play of his, and he's got 50 offers already. I said I know you have a bunch of offers, but there's no way I can offer you. I know you're going leave here and get in the car and scratch us off, but if I offered you a scholarship and you committed to me today, how stupid would that be? I know nothing about you, and you know nothing about me.

"He was just looking at me, and of course, Streeter is just sliding down in his chair."

Lawrence on the moment: "I didn't take offense to it at all. In fact, that helped in the end, for sure. Just how genuine he was. I committed a year-and-a-half after that first meeting. At the time, you don't think about how things have to align for something to happen. Even how I grew up—three states before we moved to Georgia—one little thing can change everything. You look back and think, What if I would've gone somewhere else? Not because I wanted to, but, Where would my life be?

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

"I'm at the perfect place; no doubt in my mind. It's crazy to think about that decision, and where I am now—and where I could've been. It was Clemson, Georgia and Florida at the end, but what if I didn't meet with [Swinney] that day? How different would my life be right now?"

      

'There was always something missing'

Lawrence graduated early from high school and was a midterm enrollee in January 2018 at Clemson. He tried the college scene, but parties and late nights translate to empty calories and can only satisfy so much.

He was already a big name in college football after 15 spring practices, after ESPN televised Clemson's spring game and delivered the hype across the country. Lawrence was on track to play and possibly start as a freshman, and he was already a big man on campus—without playing a down.

None of it was enough.

Then he met Clemson tailback Darien Rencher, who introduced Lawrence to NewSpring Church in nearby Anderson, South Carolina, and asked if he wanted to go on a summer retreat to Daytona Beach, Florida, where more than 3,000 young men and women attend an annual event called the Gauntlet, a five-day trip focused on bringing young people closer to their faith.

"He was a young guy, navigating college like all of us do," Rencher says. "We became close and started hanging out and talking about life. I think he was just looking for a place where he could be vulnerable and talk."

Lawrence grew up in a devout Christian family, but he was never completely invested. Soon after the Gauntlet, after searching for something to make what seemed like an idyllic life complete, everything changed.

"The Trevor that came to Daytona on Monday and the Trevor that left on Friday are two different people," NewSpring pastor Riley Cummings says. "He has always been a great kid. But coming out of that week, he had decided that football was a tool God had given him; it wasn't who God made him to be. Football ends for everyone. It doesn't matter how good you are or how many MVPs you've won. At that point, an 18-year-old kid can realize, I'm really good at it, and I'm going to make a lot of money at it, but at the end of the day I have the second half of my life to live without it. So I have to figure out who I am."

Before the start of his first fall camp at Clemson, with his family and some teammates in attendance, Lawrence was baptized in a pool inside the atrium at NewSpring Church.

"That decision is eternal; it will change the direction of his life," Rencher says. "Some of his life story, it's almost like it's already written with the way he has played. He will use his platform to tell his story. His insides are different in the way he thinks, but he's not perfect. Instead of just aimlessly living, you just shine that light."

Lawrence on the moment: "When you're in college, I feel like there's a limit to how much you can grow on your own. And I just felt like there was always something missing. No matter what I did, or who I met, I kept coming back to that. So I decided to rededicate my life to Christ. When my head was going back [in the water], it's such a surreal moment. When I think of everything that had to happen for me to be there, I can't even fathom it. At the end, it was this inner pull to be complete. You come out of the water, and it's a marker of your faith. I'm not better than anyone else. I'm not perfect. I have faults. I'm broken. My faith gives me strength, and it also gives me peace. When things are crazy all around, I'm grounded in Him."

      

'If you're not working every day, someone can pass you'

It took all of one month for Lawrence to be introduced to the negative world of sports stardom.

He was 18 and four games into his college football career when Swinney announced that he—not senior Kelly Bryant, who had led Clemson to the College Football Playoff in his first season as a starter in 2017 and shared snaps under center with Lawrence—was his starting quarterback.

Bryant left the team days later and redshirted, with the goal of finishing his college career at another school.

"I never blamed him," Bryant says. "It's not Trevor's fault. He just played the game. He's an unbelievable talent. I think people wanted there to be this animosity between us, and there just wasn't. As quickly as you are up in this game, you can be down. But it doesn't mean you're down forever."

Mike Stewart/Associated Press

From others, though, the fallout was as turbulent as it was troubling.

The same network that televised Lawrence's spring game months earlier, which fueled the public narrative that a freshman could eventually be the starting quarterback at Clemson, now had talking heads screaming about how unfair it was to Bryant.

Then in his first game as a starter, Lawrence suffered a head injury, left in the second quarter, and Clemson nearly lost its undefeated season. "He takes a big hit in the first half of his first game without Kelly, and they don't give him his helmet back," says Clemson backup quarterback Chase Brice, who took over and guided the Tigers to a 27-23 win. "It's a cruel irony. I just tried to play like I was coached and keep our season alive. We win, and we're in the locker room and everyone is going crazy. Trevor comes up to me and says: 'Thank you. I'm so happy for you.' He was genuinely excited for me. That's the kind of guy he is."

Clemson would go on to win the national championship by whipping college football king Alabama, with Lawrence's performance leaving those same talking heads debating whether he should sit out his next two seasons of college ball to protect his inevitable No. 1 selection in the NFL draft.

But sure enough, early this season after a slow (but still winning) start, the critics were at it again. Lawrence wasn't as sharp as he was as a freshman. Wasn't the same player. Clemson wasn't the same team. And on and on and on.

They're all back on the bandwagon now, after Lawrence led Clemson to a thrilling victory over Ohio State in the CFP semifinal.

Since throwing two interceptions against Louisville in mid-October, Lawrence has completed 72 percent of his passes in seven games, has accounted for more than 2,400 total yards and has 25 total touchdowns without a turnover.

Lawrence on the moment: "How could I not feel bad for [Bryant]? I know the effort and dedication he put into it. I know what it meant to him. Those are moments where you see what this whole thing is about. It kind of wakes you up. If you're not working every day, someone can pass you. Someone is out there working to pass you right now. Every year, people want something new. Last year, we were the team that beat Alabama. And everyone loved us. Then everyone wants something new. We have a close game, and everyone thinks we're not any good. It was the same in my situation. I just thought it was interesting that the same guys who thought I should sit out two seasons were the same guys who were now saying I suck."

      

'It wasn't going to end like that'

Prone on the field at State Farm Stadium, shaking off a helmet-to-helmet hit in the second quarter of the national semifinal in late December, Lawrence quickly got a dose of reality.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 28:  Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers is checked by the training staff after being hit against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first half during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at
Ralph Freso/Getty Images

You're not going to knock me out.

Soon enough, the entire Clemson sideline awakened, shaking off a 16-0 deficit and scoring 21 straight points to take the lead for the first time midway through the third quarter. Deep in the fourth, with 2:55 to play, Clemson trailed by two with the ball at the 6.

Four plays later—one Lawrence run for 11 yards and 3-of-3 completions for 83 yards—Clemson had a lead it never relinquished.

In 28 games at Clemson, Lawrence never had experienced adversity like this in this critical of a moment. He stalked the sidelines before the final drive, staring into the faces of his teammates.

I love you guys. We were built for this. Let's go score.

Lawrence is briefer in his reaction to this moment, the full impact of which is yet to be seen: "It wasn't going to end like that. We've got one more game left."

He is reminded that with a win over LSU, a young Clemson team—dominated by freshmen and sophomores—is staring at NCAA history. Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak suddenly is within striking distance.

Another 15-0 season with what will be the nation's most talented roster—including the nation's No. 1 recruiting class—isn't out of the question.

"Just wasted energy to even think about that," he says.

He'll embrace that seminal moment when and if it arrives.

Related

    Clemson Flashback: Tigers Embarrass Another Big Ten Opponent

    Clemson Football logo
    Clemson Football

    Clemson Flashback: Tigers Embarrass Another Big Ten Opponent

    robertmacraetci
    via The Clemson Insider

    Clemson Is the Midst of One of Football’s Greatest Dynasties

    Clemson Football logo
    Clemson Football

    Clemson Is the Midst of One of Football’s Greatest Dynasties

    robertmacraetci
    via The Clemson Insider

    Clemson's 10 Best: Top OL in Program History

    Clemson Football logo
    Clemson Football

    Clemson's 10 Best: Top OL in Program History

    SI.com
    via SI.com

    One Stat Shows Clemson's ACC Dominance at WR

    Clemson Football logo
    Clemson Football

    One Stat Shows Clemson's ACC Dominance at WR

    247Sports
    via 247Sports