Note: The following appears in the NC State gameday football program
Quarterback hands off to running back, running back makes a beeline for the sideline, throws up a stiff arm to extend the play and thinks he’s going to win the Heisman Trophy because, of course, he just nailed the pose in action.
Meet fourth-grader Dexter Lawrence. Yes, that Dexter Lawrence. The defensive tackle, who is 6’4”, 350 pounds and one of the most sizeable guys on the Clemson roster, found his humble football beginnings as a running back.
“I could still be one now if they’d give me an opportunity to,” insisted Lawrence.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables never promised Lawrence anything during the recruiting process…no guaranteed starting spot or even playing time to one of the highest-rated recruits in Clemson history…just an opportunity to show what he could bring to the table. While that may have been off-putting to some, it put Lawrence at ease.
“I never got promised anything (at Clemson). Throughout my whole life, I just wanted opportunities. A lot of people don’t get them, and I wanted to take advantage of everything I was given. So that’s the thing that stuck with me…they never told me I was going to start or promised me anything…they just told me they were going to give me an opportunity to show what I have.
“That’s what I loved about Clemson. The people were genuine and nice, and the players were the same way…unselfish and willing to help the younger guys get picked up. That’s a great feeling.”
It’s a good thing that the coaches made such an impression on Lawrence. After he and his mother were involved in a car accident on his first visit to Clemson, she was convinced they were never going back. But something about that trip stuck in the back of Lawrence’s mind, and on a second visit, sitting and talking with the coaches and Christian Wilkins, he knew.
And after enrolling in January 2016, he took the opportunity and made the most of it, breaking a Clemson freshman record with seven sacks, and earning ACC Defensive Rookie-of-the-Year and Second-Team All-ACC honors during a season he was not playing at full potential due to injury. During his sophomore season, he made the jump to First-Team All-ACC despite more injuries. In his career, he has 132 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 1,277 snaps over 33 games (29 starts).
Lawrence credited his coaches and teammates for the growth he has experienced, and not just on the gridiron.
“I’ve grown socially and spiritually. Before I got here, I would barely talk to anyone. Now, I could go to my hometown and give a speech. That’s one of the big places I wanted to grow.”
“Athletically, there are great coaches here. They’re smart and they make you want to learn everything…not just your job, but also what the people around you are doing. You don’t get that everywhere, and you even learn from the players themselves. Here, no one is afraid to look weak and ask questions. That’s special.”
Perhaps the epitome of the unselfishness Lawrence has experienced on the team can be seen in the group of players he is in the trenches with, day in and day out. Touted as the best defensive line in the country, it would be easy for Lawrence, Wilkins, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell, all of whom were ranked in the top 25 of ESPN’s top-50 college football players entering the 2018 season, to be primarily focused on individual performance. But it’s not like that all according to #90.
“They’re my best friends. We all have different attitudes and we argue a lot, but that’s because we’re brothers, and that’s what brothers and family do. We all push to make each other better, and that’s what I love most. It’s not a, ‘I need to do this and I’m not worried about you,’ thing. There’s no selfishness. We all genuinely care for each other…it’s real.”
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So who is Dexter Lawrence? He would tell you he is smart, handsome and charming. He is a fun-loving guy who also gives maximum effort in whatever he does. He is someone who wants to be remembered as a player who was dominant on the field and enjoyed every moment of the journey and process…someone who doesn’t want to waste the opportunity he has been given.
Still up in the air as to whether or not he’ll get that opportunity at running back, but if he does, rest assured that he will be ready.