Watching from the sideline was Deshaun Watson, the former Tigers quarterback who now plays for the Houston Texans.
“I guess I should be used to this by now, right?” Watson asked (via ESPN) as he stood on the Levi’s Stadium field after Clemson’s dominant 44-16 victory. “Everything I did, he goes and does it, too. My man is a true freshman, he’s got at least two more years to do work. He’s gonna be a legend. He already is. People know that now.”
Watson, who led the Tigers to a 2017 victory over the Crimson Tide for Clemson’s first national title in more than 30 years, has other things in common with Lawrence. The freshman, who played at Cartersville High School, broke all of Watson’s Georgia state high school passing marks and now is the first true freshman starter to win a national title since 1985, when Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway replaced an injured Troy Aikman in the fourth game of the season.
That Lawrence would rise to the moment on college football’s biggest stage may have seemed premature, but it also felt preordained. At 6-foot-6, he was rated the No. 2 recruit in the country out of high school by ESPN. His distinctive shoulder-length hair peeking out from his helmet earned him the nickname “Sunshine,” a reference to the blonde quarterback in “Remember the Titans.”
“You can talk about his physical skills all you want,” ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said (via the San Francisco Chronicle). “To me it’s the ability, in this offense, especially when they go up-tempo, the ability not to make mental mistakes, process the coverage, get out of a bad play into a good play. That is just unbelievable. … He’s a once-in-a-generation type of guy.”
When he was in eighth grade, Lawrence gave up baseball and basketball to focus on football. His Cartersville teams went 52-2, with his legend, like his hair, growing longer and longer. “I decided to grow it out, and it stuck, so I just left it,” he said. He chose to go to Clemson rather than stay in-state at Georgia and wears No. 16 because that was Peyton Manning’s number at Tennessee, the state in which Lawrence was born.
Like Swinney, Lawrence speaks often of his faith.
“Football is important to me, obviously, but it is not my life. It is not like the biggest thing in my life. My faith is,” he told the Clemson Insider. “That just comes from kind of knowing who I am outside of that. I just know, no matter how big the situation is, it is not really going to define me … I put my identity in what Christ says, who He thinks I am and who I know that He says I am. Like I said, it really does not matter what people think of me or how good they think I play. That does not really matter. That has been a big thing for me, in my situation, just knowing that and having confidence in that.”
Even Alabama Coach Nick Saban has called Lawrence “a special talent,” and NFL scouts were surely salivating Monday night, although the quarterback won’t be wearing an NFL uniform for a few more years. NFL rules require players to be three years removed from high school in order to turn pro.
“Trevor Lawrence is the best true freshman QB I’ve ever seen,” tweeted Gil Brandt, the radio analyst who formerly was the vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys. “If I was running an NFL team, I’d be making trades for as many 2021 picks I could get my hands on.”
Lawrence only became the Clemson starter in late September when, after an impressive outing against Georgia Tech, he replaced Kelly Bryant, who had lost only two games as a starter. Lawrence won’t turn 20 until October, which means, gulp, he’s going to be in college two more years. You think that prospect pleases Coach Dabo Swinney?
“From the time he walked into that building in January , just a couple of weeks removed from eating in the high school cafeteria, we knew he was the real deal,” Swinney said after Monday night’s game (via ESPN). “He was a leader, Day 1. And, oh, by the way, he can sling that dang football around, too, can’t he?”
He’s nonchalant about it, too, so much so that receiver Hunter Renfrow called him “ice” Monday night. Lawrence allowed that his first season was “an amazing year . . . an unbelievable experience.” In the fall, though, there might have been a hint about how he would handle something as monumental as winning a national title.
“Football is important to me, obviously, but it is not my life,” he told the Clemson Insider the week before being named the starter. “It is not like the biggest thing in my life. My faith is. That just comes from kind of knowing who I am outside of that. I just know, no matter how big the situation is, it is not really going to define me.”
For now, this situation does.
Read more from The Post: