One by one, Trevor Lawrence approached each teammate with the same message.
“We’ll be right back here next year,” Clemson’s superstar quarterback promised them.
This was after the first defeat of his college career, a humbling experience for a player only used to winning. But in the losing locker room following the one-sided national championship game loss to LSU, Lawrence was doing his best to lift the spirits of those around him.
“It would have been cool to have the opportunity to not lose a game in college, but I think some things are necessary for you to grow,” the long-haired, 6-foot-6 quarterback said Tuesday over Zoom, as preparation continued for Friday night’s College Football Playoff semifinal in the Sugar Bowl. “You’ve got to face a little bit of adversity and sometimes you’re a little bit blinded by success if you don’t have any hiccups along the way.
“I think for us [Clemson] and for me personally, it was good for us to not win that [championship] game in a lot of ways.”
Lawrence did more than just talk about getting back to the playoff. He spent the offseason working on his weaknesses, most notably improving his footwork with personal quarterback coach Ron Veal. When there was doubt whether the season would be played, he was one of the big voices in the #WeWantToPlay movement across the sport. And once the season hit, he was back to his same dominant self, producing 29 touchdowns and completing a career-best 69.2 percent of his passes, and going 9-0 as the Clemson starter. If not for missing two games due to a positive COVID-19 test, he likely would be in line to become Clemson’s first Heisman Trophy winner, though he still was announced as a finalist.
“I would say he’s arguably one of the great college football quarterbacks of all time based on his production and winning games,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Combs said.
His 34-1 record as a starter, three playoff berths and three ACC championships certainly support that statement.
Lawrence took the sport by storm in his first trip to the playoff, throwing for 674 yards and six touchdowns in a pair of blowout victories over Notre Dame and Alabama, capping a magical true-freshman season. Last year under immense pressure and expectations, he struggled somewhat with his consistency, and completed just 51.4 percent of his passes in the playoff. He did, however, lead Clemson back from a 16-0 deficit in the semifinals against Ohio State, running for a career-best 107 yards.
This will likely be his final go-round, barring a stunning decision to return to school for his senior year. He is expected to be the first pick in the draft in April as the consensus top quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck.
There will be instant pressure, a significant amount of hype attached to his right arm before he throws an NFL pass. Of course, the same could be said of Lawrence upon arriving at Clemson. He was the top-ranked prospect in the country and needed just three games until coach Dabo Swinney benched popular starter Kelly Bryant in favor of Lawrence.
“There’s not a moment too big for Trevor Lawrence,” Swinney said.
There have been a lot of comparisons between Lawrence and Texans Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, who led Clemson to its first national championship in 35 years back in January 2017. Watson was so pivotal to Clemson getting over the hump, as the player who made the Tigers into a national powerhouse. Lawrence has taken the program to another level.
“There will be a lot of people,” Swinney said, “trying to live up to the standard that he set as a [college] quarterback for a long time in this game.”
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