For the majority of his life, he was known as “Dex’s little brother.”
Dex is Dexter Lawrence, a former star defensive tackle at Wake Forest High School. He helped lead Wake Forest to two state championship appearances in 2013 and 2014 and is now a freshman at Clemson. He recently won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
The little brother is Devon Lawrence, a junior running back for Wake Forest High.
“When people say, ‘Dex’s little brother,’ I say, ‘Yeah, my name is Devon,’ just to put myself out there more and more, to get that label off,” Devon said. “I mean, it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just that’s how it was growing up.”
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But after 1,458 yards on the ground, 23 touchdowns this season and a game-winning touchdown in overtime Friday that sent the Cougars to the state championship, most people know his name now. Wake Forest will play Page High from Greensboro on Saturday at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
Down 17-14 in overtime to Middle Creek, Devon received the hand-off and dove in for the score. His teammates raised their hands in the air and they celebrated.
At school on Monday, the week after the big win that sent them to the state championship, Devon said the JROTC students clapped for him as he walked down the hall.
Other students gave him hugs and congratulated him. They told him that he saved them, but he praised the defense, which made a huge stop in overtime, and the offensive line, which created holes for him to run through.
“I’m like, geez, I’ve never had that (acclaim) happen,” Devon said.
Growing up, Dexter and Devon Lawrence, who are one year and two grades apart, have always been attached.
When Dexter was first becoming noticed in the ninth grade, and Devon was in middle school, people would say, “Dex has a little brother who is going to be good too.”
And Devon was good. But the two brothers were distinctly different.
Dexter is the humble brother, Devon said, and he likes to play video games and take naps.
Devon says he’s learning to be humble from Dexter, but he doesn’t like video games. He loves to go out with friends and play basketball.
Then there’s the difference in size.
Devon is 5 feet 10 and 190 pounds.
Dexter is 6-5 and 340 pounds.
“They’d argue all the time,” Julia Parker, their mother, said while laughing. “They were a handful together growing up.”
For much of their lives, the two brothers grew up in a single-parent home, with their mom. Their parents divorced when they were young, and Parker moved the boys to Maryland with their grandmother, until she found a job in North Carolina.
For the boys, being in a single-parent home meant becoming the men of the house at an early age. It also meant carrying more responsibilities as their mother sometimes worked 13-hour shifts to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
“I had to find someone to be home with them,” Parker said. “And sometimes they didn’t have certain things they needed, and I couldn’t get it because I was paying bills and working a salary that wasn’t up to par.”
She said there was rarely any extra money left over.
But the boys learned the importance of family and sticking together. Parker would always tell them, “Even though you ain’t got the best family, you have to stay close because you just never know when they may need you and you may need them.”
Lawrence calls his mom “the real MVP,” a phrase made popular by NBA star Kevin Durant during his MVP speech in 2014.
“Seeing everything she went through and how she just provided for us and never quit, that’s where we get our motivation from,” Devon said. “Our mom.”
Blessing in disguise
Devon plans to use that motivation in Saturday’s state championship game when Wake Forest (15-0) takes on Page (14-1), considered by many the best team in the state.
MaxPreps ranks Page No. 1 in the state, Wake Forest No. 5.
While the Pirates are known for putting up high scores, they can also defend. The Pirates’ defense allows 15.8 points per game.
Last year, Page was in the East bracket and beat Wake Forest in the second round of the state playoffs at Wake Forest. Wake Forest was up 14-0 before Page came back. So Saturday’s matchup is one in which the Cougars are looking to get revenge.
“Honestly I just think it’s a blessing in disguise,” Devon said. “This happened for a reason.”
The Cougars’ offense may be leaning on Devon again Saturday. And Wake Forest head coach Reggie Lucas is confident he can get the job done.
“If you look at what Devon has been able to do against teams that are keying on him, and they know Devon is going to get the ball,” Lucas said, “but Devon has come up big every game.”
Wake Forest is a team that likes to run a lot. Lucas said the key will be for the offensive line to block well and put “a body on a body,” and give the running backs a chance.
“We’re going to go play-by-play, quarter-by-quarter, and try to win this game from start to finish,” Lucas said.