The very first time they played on the same football team, Dexter and Devon Lawrence won a championship.
Granted they hadn’t yet reached high school and were still living in Arkansas. Still, winning at an elite level – even among youth recreation football standards – set a foundation for the two Wake Forest High School brothers.
“Growing up, watching him do what he does just inspired me to go hard every single day,” sophomore running back Devon Lawrence said of his big brother, the Cougars’ 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive tackle. Dexter Lawrence II, 17, is Rival.com’s top-ranked football player of 2016 who has appeared in two consecutive N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA championships.
It’s the five-star recruit’s final season at Wake Forest, and the brothers are 16 wins away from repeating history.
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It’s just a blessing to see his improvement and my improvement from when we played as younger kids. I’m just enjoying playing with him.
Wake Forest DT Dexter Lawrence on playing alongside his younger brother
Charlotte’s Mallard Creek defeated Wake Forest for consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014.
“I’ve been there twice, and that’s just teasing me,” Dexter said through hearty laugh. “It would be a blessing. That’s all I ask for is just to win.”
Wake Forest arrived at the championship three times in the last five years, with 2010 being the program’s first appearance in school history. In those five years, the Cougars have posted a 60-13 record, won a pair of Cap-8 Conference championships and never missed the postseason.
The highly-recruited Dexter Lawrence, who has 21 scholarship offers from premier football programs across the nation that include the Triangle’s ACC schools, SEC powerhouse Alabama and defending national champion Ohio State, yearns badly for a title to close his senior season. Wake Forest’s record has improved over the last two appearances, as Mallard Creek was its only loss last year.
In the midst of a high-profile recruitment from a high school football program that may be just as esteemed, Dexter Lawrence understands the sense of responsibility he has to his younger brother and to his teammates.
To Dexter, it means to “just become a better leader and better brother for him (Devon). Just showing him and pushing him down the path of greatness. I’ve been through high school now. This is my last year, and I’m just letting him know what’s going on and what you should do.”
Devon Lawrence, 16, has accompanied his five-star recruit sibling on several college visits, and the 5-10, 180-pound rusher picked up a few lessons on maintaining his grades and even his humility.
Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas has at times discouraged his players from wearing their football paraphernalia to certain events because of the program’s status.
For the Lawrence brothers, the spotlight shines tenfold.
Dexter, who recorded 10 sacks last year, has already proved himself as one of the best in high school football when he climbed an unprecedented 12 spots to top of the Rivals list earlier this year.
Devon Lawrence is creating his own buzz.
In Wake Forest’s 48-20 season-opening victory over Panther Creek on Friday, Devon rushed for 131 yards on 14 carries as part of a bevy of running backs who helped dominate.
“Devon is definitely one of the best backs in North Carolina,” Lucas said. Devon moved up to varsity as a freshman last year. “I think he’s going to be recruited highly also. I think (playing together) means a lot to both of them. I think they realized it last year playing together in the state championship. By Devon being the younger brother and being able to come to high school, play on the varsity level and contribute, Dexter has definitely garnered a little more respect for him.
“I don’t think Dexter knew he would be that good that soon in high school.”
Dexter Lawence laughed it off when asked about the notion of younger brothers being better than the older.
“He’s young right now,” Dexter said, “but we’ll see. He could be.”
They agreed the biggest difference between them, despite playing on opposite sides of the ball and Dexter being noticeably larger, is simply their personalities.
Devon tends to be more outgoing, while his older brother is more easygoing.
They both love football.
They both want to win in football.
They both play football for the same reason – their mother.
“We want to give back to her for what she’s done for us,” Dexter said.
Devon added, “She’s a single parent taking care of two boys. We’re not struggling now, but (we play) so that she’ll be living well. We can buy a house maybe if we make it that far.”
Lucas said the Lawrences’ mother raised her sons to be polite and have the utmost respect for others, and it shows in the hallways at Wake Forest.
“That’s something they have similar,” Lucas said. “They have a lot of respect for adults and their teachers and their coaches in the way they carry themselves. That comes from mom.”
As rare a situation as Dexter and Devon Lawrence have, it isn’t the first time Wake Forest has encountered it.
Bryce Love, the Cougars former star running back who signed with Stanford last year, played with his older brother, Chris, as a freshman.
Love anchored the Wake Forest offense last season with 37 total touchdowns and 2,304 rushing yards.
“Having Dexter and Devon coming in after Bryce and Chris is very special to us,” Lucas said.
Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan