Oct. 4, 1999
By Brett Sowell
CLEMSON, S.C. – During the final minute of the third quarter against South Carolina in Columbia on November 22, 1997, wide receiver Mal Lawyer sprinted into the Clemson huddle with the play call assistant coach Rick Stockstill had given him just seconds before. With a smile on his face Lawyer said, “Miami.”
As the 25-second play clock was winding down Lawyer took a lot of grief from his teammates and friends in the huddle because Miami was a screenplay designed to go to Lawyer.
“In the huddle everything got quiet and I said Miami. Nealon (Greene), T-Horne (Tony Horne), and Brian (Wofford), looked at me and said “you’re scared.’ What do you mean I am scared,” Lawyer said. “I just told Nealon to throw it low and I would make the catch. I told T-Horne to throw the block and it would be a touchdown.” And it was a 15-yard score for the Moncks Corner, S.C. native. It was his only catch in the 47-21 win over the Gamecocks.
“On the sidelines, Coach Stockstill was even happier than I was. It was the first time that Tony, Brian, and myself all scored a touchdown in the same game,” Lawyer added.
The touchdown meant even more to him because it came against South Carolina.
“I think that play has been the biggest play of my career. It was big because Billy Baker of the High School Sports Report told my father that he was telling the South Carolina coaches, “if you don’t get Mal Lawyer it will be a big mistake. One day he is going to score a touchdown against you if you face him.’ Which I did,” Lawyer stated.
Lawyer grew up a Clemson fan as a youngster. He took a liking to the Tigers more out of spite than anything else. “Growing up in the area I lived in I felt like everybody was a South Carolina fan. My cousin Derrick Major, who is two-years older than me, was a Carolina fan. I always wanted to be against him so I picked Clemson. So after that point I just stuck with Clemson.”
When the time came for Lawyer to decide on a college, Lawyer was leaning towards a Tiger rival, Georgia. When Georgia fired Ray Goff, Lawyer decided to come to Tigertown. However, there was more suspense for Lawyer.
“Coming out of high school I was having trouble with my SAT scores. I did not know I passed them until Ellis Johnson (a former Clemson assistant coach) told me. I was shocked when he told me,” Lawyer said. “Before I found out I passed, I was thinking that I would have to go to a junior college or a prep school first. So when I found out I made the required score on the SAT I decided to go to Clemson.”
During his freshman season, Lawyer saw action in every game with the exception of Florida State. However, he only made one catch. It was an 11-yard reception in the Missouri contest.
“My playing time was very minimal that first year. Coach Stockstill thought that I needed to learn a lot more things. I guess I wasn’t mentally ready in his eyes. It was very hard to be thought of as a football star in high school and to come here and stand on the sidelines. I wanted to go in and make plays and feel like I was a part of the team. It was hard to feel those things from the sidelines.
“Coach Stockstill knew what he was doing and I owe him a lot. He did a good job teaching me the fundamentals of coming off the ball and running my routes. I am thankful that he was such a positive influence on me.”
Lawyer reflects back and knows that the season was not a total wash. Standing on the sidelines he was given the opportunity to learn from starting wide receivers Tony Horne and Joe Woods. Horne was a first-team All-ACC pick as a specialist and a second-team All-ACC selection at wide receiver in 1997 and now plays for the St. Louis Rams in the NFL.
“When I came in we had receivers like Joe Woods and Tony Horne. I feel as though sitting on the sidelines, watching them practice and play helped me pick up a lot of habits from them.
“I learned from Tony that size doesn’t matter. He goes 110 percent in practice and games. He makes things happen with the catch and after the catch. I tried to pick up those things he did well. He is a great blocker, a team player, and left all of his individual goals behind. And most of all he is a great receiver,” said Lawyer.
“We still talk every once in a while when he has time. He’ll call or I will try to call him. He was more than a close friend, he was like a big brother to me.”
Coach Stockstill agrees with Lawyer’s sentiments about using that time to grow as a player and a person.
“Mal has made as much improvement as anybody from his freshman year to his senior year,” said Stockstill. “All of the things he has accomplished here are a credit to him. He has really matured as a football player and an individual.”
Another person that has been a brother like influence on Lawyer, in addition to Horne, is teammate Brian Wofford. A friendship that actually began before the two players arrived at Clemson.
“I met Brian before I came here at the Shrine Bowl. When we were there we sat next to each other at the dinner functions,” said Lawyer.
“Brian and I are close. When I came to Clemson I actually knew somebody,” said Lawyer. “We just picked back up our friendship that we started at the Shrine Bowl. We do a lot of things together. He is like a brother to me here. We look after each other. If one of us has a problem we will go talk to the other one and ask for advice.”
Now the two players have become one of the best receiving duos in Clemson history. Both players rank among the top 20 in school history in both receptions and reception yards. Heading into the North Carolina contest the duo had combined for 172 receptions in their careers. The Clemson duo receptions record is 216 by Perry Tuttle (150) and Jerry Gaillard (66).
After only making one catch as a freshman, Lawyer began to help his friend and teammate make an effort to reach the Clemson receiving duo milestones as a sophomore. Both Lawyer and Wofford finished the 1997 season with 28 catches apiece. Lawyer started the season on fire with 22 of his 28 catches coming in the first six games. He pulled down his first career touchdown catch at Georgia Tech.
The 1997 regular season concluded with his “Miami” catch at South Carolina.
Lawyer continued to build on the success he found in 1997 during the 1998 season. He opened the season with three catches for 76 yards in the win over Furman. Three weeks later he finished with what was then a career best 89 reception yards versus Wake Forest.
On Halloween versus NC State, Lawyer made a career high eight catches for 100 yards, a total good enough to eclipse the career high he set against Wake Forest just a few weeks earlier. Included in the eight catches were two touchdowns. He also came up with 81 yards on four kickoff returns to give him 181 all-purpose running yards, another career best. Lawyer concluded the 1998 season by being named the team’s most valuable offensive player.
Lawyer’s improvement as a player did not come overnight. It was the result of the time and effort he put in to improve himself during the summers at Clemson.
“He has stayed up here every summer throughout his career,” commented Stockstill. “Mal did a good job working to improve his strength and his routes. The things he has done are a good example for the freshmen and newcomers on our team. He does everything you ask of him, on and off the field and for me personally, he has been a lot of fun to be around the last four years.”
While Stockstill has been with the Clemson program throughout Lawyer’s career, Tommy Bowden and the rest of his new staff have not. Lawyer and his teammates have had to make an adjustment to Coach Bowden’s practice philosophy.
“It was hard at first adjusting to the new staff because practice is a lot more intense,” said Lawyer. “Everybody is really into it. You can’t go to practice anymore and have something on your mind. You have to come to practice with the right mindset or you are not going to play. Everything now is really fast paced and you have to really pick it up quick.”
Practices have been so intense, that Lawyer says most of his “down time” consists of sitting at home and participating in his favorite past time, watching cartoons on television.
“Since we have the new coaching staff, a lot of times we are too tired to do anything else after practice. So most of the time I just lay in my bed and watch cartoons and ESPN’s Sportscenter.
“My favorite cartoon is Dragon Ballz and the good ol’ Flinstones. Basically any cartoon that comes on the Cartoon Network, because my TV stays on the Cartoon Network. My father and I would watch Tom & Jerry when I was little,” said Lawyer.
Now instead of watching cartoons with Lawyer, his father Samuel Lawyer, Sr. (Mal is Samuel Lawyer, Jr.) follows his son to games wherever he goes. Lawyer is lucky in that both of his parents have been supportive of him throughout his athletic career.
“My parents travel to every game. They have been coming to everything since I started playing little league football, basketball, baseball, and track. They are my biggest fans. I thank them for that because they are always there for me,” said Lawyer.
Lawyer’s family is important to him and he stated proudly that his two nephews, Jalen (3) and Jaquen (seven months), “are the future of football.”
Lawyer is also proud of another family member, J.J. McKelvey. McKelvey is now a freshman linebacker at Clemson thanks in part to the work of his cousin, Mal.
“I went home over break and when I got there I heard that J.J. was going to East Tennessee State. Because our other cousin goes there. When I heard that, I told him no, you need to go to a big school. I told J.J. that I was going to talk with Coach Brad Scott and try to get him in Clemson. I told Coach Scott about him and he went out and got him. Now he is a Tiger.” McKelvey is already making an impact as a second-team linebacker this season.
As Lawyer’s career at Clemson is coming to a close his biggest goal is to graduate in May with his degree in marketing. If he graduates in May, it means he obtained his degree in four years. His success on the field and in the classroom can be attributed to his philosophy on life. A philosophy that he would like to share with kids everywhere.
“Put God before everything because without Him nothing is possible. Put Him first followed by your parents, school, then girls or whatever. Leave the drugs and alcohol alone,” Lawyer emphasized.
Hopefully, today Lawyer will again go to the huddle with a smile on his face knowing that the play is coming to him. If the pass is low and the block is made, Lawyer could be headed for another touchdown.
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