Dexter Lawrence insisted there was more to choosing Clemson than just football.
North Carolina’s top-ranked recruit of 2016 announced he was headed to play for the ACC champion in a ceremony at Wake Forest High School on Dec. 14.
At the time, the top-ranked Tigers were undefeated and preparing to compete against No. 4 Oklahoma on New Year’s Eve in the Orange Bowl, the winner to play for a national championship.
Through four years of Wake Forest football, Lawrence, a 6-foot-5, 340-pound defensive tackle, had been on the radar of college coaches across the nation.
Lawrence narrowed some 22 offers down to seven on his decision day, with Alabama, UNC, Ohio State and N.C. State among the schools that remained in the running. Four of his final choices were in the nation’s top 10 football programs.
Clemson, he suggested, was really the best choice for him.
“I just wanted the coaches to treat my mom great,” Lawrence said moments after declaring. “I want to provide for her one day like she did for me and my brother. That’s my Number 1 goal.”
Lawrence appreciated the family-oriented environment of the Dabo Swinney-coached Tigers.
His high school defensive line coach Blake Brooks said though Lawrence has set himself apart in the recruiting game because of his abilities on the field, he had to weigh several factors.
Lawrence, who participated in several math camps as a child, plans to study engineering. He said his education was important to him.
Brooks pointed out how valuable off-the-field facets become for a college football player in the event of the worst: a career-ending injury.
“The thing that you have to do in the process, you have to find the place that’s best for you,” Brooks said. “Now, if I get hurt and can’t play anymore, am I going to stay at this college four or five years and get my degree and go on with my life? So, it’s a great decision because he made it.”
Lawrence was one of 20 early graduates out of Wake Forest, and he had to finish all his coursework and exams the Friday before his decision. He will be enrolled in Clemson in January, the same month of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, for which he was selected in the fall.
The family aspect of the recruiting process not only meant a lot to Lawrence because of his mother, but he also considered his younger brother, Devon, a standout running back for the Cougars.
I learned to just be humble and take it day-by-day. Don’t push yourself or stress yourself because you don’t have to talk to everybody. They want to talk to you and recruit you, so just be patient.
Wake Forest sophomore running back Devon Lawrence
“He just saw what I saw,” Dexter Lawrence said. “I didn’t talk to him much about him, it was more about me. Once his time comes, he will know how to handle it pretty well.”
As Clemson inches closer to a championship appearance, Lawrence leaves behind a defense he anchored to two N.C. High School Athletic Association title games.
In his senior season, Lawrence contributed 91 tackles, 21 for loss and 13 sacks, to lead a Cougars team that finished the regular season undefeated. Wake Forest fell to Greensboro Page in the second round of the playoffs for the first loss of the year.
Lawrence’s mother, Julia Parker, said her oldest son took on his senior season and a high-profile recruiting process like a champion all the same.
“It was a headache sometimes,” Parker said. “At the end, it became a headache. They were constantly calling and pressuring, and he handled it great. (Choosing Clemson) was not the part about it being a few hours away, it’s the part about it being family-oriented. I feel like he can get his education there and that he will excel there and become the greatest player ever.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan