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Trevor Lawrence’s hometown will root for him wherever he goes — even if he goes to the Jets

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is on track to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. (Ken Ruinard/The Independent-Mail/AP)

The fashion forecast for Bartow County in Northwest Georgia calls for a gathering chance of a cascading green. That’s not just any green but a “Gotham Green” distinctive to the beleaguered lot known as “New York Jets fans,” odd given that nobody in 21,000-strong Cartersville, Ga., seems to have met any Jets fans in town.

“Not a one … yet,” according to Ron Goss, a contractor, Cartersville native and Cartersville resident.

“Can’t say that I have,” said Travis Popham, a real estate agent, Cartersville High graduate and Cartersville resident.

“To my knowledge, no,” said Don Startup, a pastor who doubles as the color commentator on Cartersville High games such as the playoff donnybrook last Friday night almost 300 miles away near the Florida line.

Oh, but the dye (sic) is being cast, week upon week in late autumn 2020, as the far-flung Jets lately have ridden one bomb (by the Raiders) and another bomb (40-3 against Seattle) to the unequivocal record of 0-13. If they wind up spending the American holiday of the NFL draft in late April using a No. 1 pick to select quarterback Trevor Lawrence, formerly of Cartersville High and currently of Clemson, well …

“As soon as things are official, you’ll see a few NFL number jerseys around the county,” said Nicholas Sullivan, who covers the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes and other schools for the Daily Tribune News in Cartersville.

“Cartersville may become the ‘Little Big Apple,’ ” Goss texted.

“Oh, it will [appear] on the kids for sure because the kids in this town are just absolutely in love with Trevor,” Startup said.

After all, nobody in what Goss calls “Georgia Bulldog country” foresaw the proliferation of orange Clemson jerseys, and now, as Popham notices, it’s a December thing to see kids on Facebook flashing their new orange LAWRENCE 16.

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Lawrence-to-the-Jets stirs a tangle of feelings, of course, as does any construct containing that particular four-letter proper noun. “Everybody’s thinking, ‘The Falcons need to get him,’” even as that’s unrealistic, said Matt Santini, a brave soul who holds two of America’s most generally embattled positions: mayor and play-by-play announcer. There’s the dread fear of insufficient blocking, as when Santini said, “You’ve just got to look at what happened to Joe Burrow this year,” and Goss said, “You cannot do what the Jets did to Joe Namath and have his legs destroyed.”

Thereby does the thought of Namath’s knees, always wince-worthy, live on, 745 miles southwest of the Jets’ home-game misadventures.

Sailing above the tangle, though, is one feeling far less cluttered: an unmistakable love and respect for a Clemson graduate (as of Thursday) they have followed for about half of forever in football years. A thousand American towns never witness such a phenomenon, yet it has come to a place about 50 minutes northwest of downtown Atlanta, if a trek advisable only by helicopter at certain stages of the day. Goss tells how he can reach the Atlanta Braves’ stadium in Cobb County in 25 minutes — and park, even — yet once back home with its throwback small-town downtown, he can walk four blocks from his house toward the Friday night lights while hearing the voice of longtime Cartersville stadium public-address announcer Jack Howell ricochet through the air.

“That’s why a lot of people can feel like Trevor Lawrence is the neighbor, is the cousin,” he said of the setting.

Rumors of Lawrence’s prowess hatched and spread while he still navigated middle school, of course. There came a Friday night when he debuted as a high school freshman, and here came the season ticket holders with their Friday night seats and their Friday night conversations, including that group of men in the stands self-dubbed “ESPN” for their unquenchable hankering to talk sports. (“Everybody wants to be Mel Kiper: ‘This is what I think!’ ” Goss said.) So, Goss again, “We were all waiting to see this kid, probably 14 years old.” Lawrence, then one of two quarterbacks along with eventual and current Alabama tight end Miller Forristall, threw a sideline pass to the right.

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There was something about the way that football moved.

“There was almost sort of a hush,” Goss said.

Bartow County has had its athletes, including NFL running backs Ronnie Brown, Keith Henderson and Robert Lavette (Cartersville High); former Clemson and current Las Vegas Raiders defender Vic Beasley Jr. (Adairsville High); recent No. 1 New York Yankees pick and catcher Anthony Seigler (Cartersville High); and recent Minnesota Timberwolves addition Ashton Hagans (Newton High east of Atlanta). The Cartersville Canes, fixing to play a state semifinal Friday, have gone 115-12 since 2012, the kind of arrangement you can view in places such as Tuscaloosa or Clemson or Columbus, where the chronic winning fuels the art of nitpicking. (Trail during a game, Santini said, and it’s, “ ‘Oh my gosh, what’s this? We’ve got to do this! We’ve got to do that!’ ” even as the rejoinder might go, “They won by two touchdowns.”) There are graduates playing here and there and over there on Saturdays.

Cartersville has a lot to follow, yet now it has tacked on the country’s favorite parlor game, NFL draft-speculating. In some cases in town, that has included accusing the Jets of tanking or wishing the Falcons could be worse than 4-9. That’s because the 6-foot-6, mobile, strong, decent, driven Lawrence long since started turning up in sentences near the word “generational.” All that talent already, and here came someone with “the level head, the mind, the vision, the arm, the size, he had it all. The hair,” Goss said.

Then the town came to love something many others fancy, the humility, but then something a notch further: the way Lawrence wears his status as what Popham called “a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback.” He wears it with a fluid ease you can spot at Clemson, with almost — almost — a smidgen of bewilderment at the surrounding fuss.

When the citizens “flooded” their mayor with requests to see Lawrence ride a parade float through town after he steered Clemson’s 44-16 annihilation of Alabama in the 2018-19 national championship game (with Forristall on the opposing team!), Santini complied and dialed Lawrence’s family. “His mother, she just said, ‘Yeah, Trevor, when he comes home, he just kind of wants to be normal. He thanks you, but …’” Santini said.

“You would be hard-pressed,” Sullivan said, “to find anyone at [the three other public schools around Bartow County] who has a negative thing to say about him. That, to me, is a more telling thing.”

With years and years of life already spent under a spotlight and his time around the NFL clearinghouse of Dabo Swinney’s Clemson and his temperament, Lawrence would seem spectacularly prepared to handle even a loud New York muddle that has flummoxed many a prepared sort. Those who have studied him the longest note, as does Popham, his reading of defenses, his crucial capacity to throw on the run. Goss: “Nobody’s ever been more ready.” Sullivan: “I think he really is, personality-wise, the perfect person to try to step into that role. I think, frankly, that is a big concern for a lot of people, is where he ends up and whether they’re going to be able to protect him so he can be the quarterback they’ve known he could be since he was 14 years old.”

So now the town watches all this, too, as that rare place where a mayor might pitch an ad. It’s a no-brainer, Santini brainstormed, that soon the kid Cartersville has known for such a while, all grown up, will be alongside Patrick Mahomes and Troy Polamalu in those ads for, of course, shampoo.

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