It’s hard to miss Wake Forest junior Dexter Lawrence on the football field. At 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, he’s one of the nation’s top high school football players.
But the highly touted defensive tackle’s size is perhaps even more apparent on the hardwood, where Lawrence starts at center for Wake Forest High’s basketball team.
As Lawrence and the Cougars football team were making a run to their second consecutive 4AA state championship appearance, the school’s basketball season was already in action. After missing the first nine games of the basketball season, Lawrence carried home his East most outstanding defensive player award from the Cougars’ football runner-up finish, and had to play catch-up.
“I just go right back at it,” Lawrence said Friday after the Cougars capped the regular season with an 82-79 overtime win at Enloe. “I don’t take a break at all. I’ve been playing basketball for about five years and I’m just developing and getting better each year. ... Getting in different shape, that’s tough. I just come every day and compete in practice and it helps. They both can be physical, but I feel like football beats me up sometimes and basketball can wear on my legs.”
The transition is not an easy one for Lawrence and sophomore Xach Gill, also a lineman for the Cougars. After their football playoff run, they had two games with the team before winter break and played during a holiday tournament before the team had another short break.
“It really took them really about a month to really get into game mode,” Wake Forest coach Todd Seymour said. “It’s hard for those guys. They’ve really only been in good basketball shape for about 10 games.”
Once upon a time, basketball was Lawrence’s favorite sport, and while he still enjoys hoops, football has become his main stage with more than 20 offers from college programs.
He plays basketball because he enjoys the camaraderie on the team, and basketball helps him stay in shape for football. Lawrence says he just enjoys being active, adding that he may also throw shot put and discus for the Cougars track and field team again this year.
When Seymour arrived at Wake Forest, he heard about Lawrence’s on-field exploits, but says seeing the junior in action went above and beyond his expectations.
“I knew we had a good defensive tackle prospect that was a big time player,” Seymour said. “I’ve been around and seen some good defensive linemen before and how they move, but I’ve never seen somebody who can do what he does. I don’t know if he’s once in a lifetime, but he’s at least a once in a long time type player.”
In his first year as the Cougars basketball coach, Seymour has gotten to know more than just Lawrence the star athlete. His size and physical ability are difference-makers on the court as they are on the football field, but Lawrence brings more than averages of 10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 blocks per game to the table, Seymour said.
“Obviously he’s a huge post presence for us with his size, but more than his talent, he’s just a great kid too,” he said. “He’s a good chemistry guy for the team.
I’ve never seen somebody his size move as well as he does. He’s so agile. He’s so flexible. There will be times when it looks like he’s going to the ground or he’s falling and he can keep his balance. And he doesn’t get frustrated when he gets beat up and doesn’t get the calls. He’s used to that. He’s just a tremendous athlete and that’s really just all you can say about him.”