College football stars Dexter Lawrence and Bryce Love get a big compliment from ESPN

Imagine you’re a young football player at Wake Forest High School walking through the halls one day, and you have to do a double-take.

Heading your way is a familiar face. One you have definitely seen on television. That can’t be him, and what is he carrying? Last season Stanford’s Bryce Love had a breakout year, setting records for the Cardinal and rushing his way right into Heisman contention, finishing second place for college football’s most sought after individual award. Love didn’t win the Heisman, but he did win the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back in the country. And one day Love decided to bring it home to Wake Forest High School, simply because a teacher wanted to see it. So Love, not one to disappoint anyone in the Wake Forest community, drove home to get the statue.

If you hang around Wake Forest enough during the off season you’re also likely to bump into another college football star. Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence was a year behind Love in high school, and the duo led the Cougars to back-to-back state championship games. While Love could possible blend in at their alma mater, standing 5-10 and weighing 196 pounds, Lawrence is a different story. The Tigers All-ACC defensive tackle stands 6-4 and 350 pounds - not a lot of those walking around the hallways of too many high schools.

Like Love, Lawrence is no stranger to Wake Forest High whenever he is in town.

Both players have left the Eastern Wake County town and gone on to big things in college football. Love, as mentioned before, was second in the Heisman voting and was considered one of the best players in the nation. Lawrence won a national title with Clemson as a freshman, and led the Tigers back to the College Football Playoffs again last season.

College football season is right around the corner, which mean all kinds of polls and rankings will be released before a down of football is played.

The latest poll, released Monday by ESPN of the top five players in college football this season ranked Love and Lawrence, No. 2 and No. 5, respectively. Lawrence, one fourth of the best defensive line in the nation, finished with 33 tackles and two sacks in 2017, despite missing three games with a leg injury. Love, taking over full time for first-round pick Christian McCaffrey, showed he was ready for prime time. It only took Love five games to reach 1,000 yards and he finished with 2,118 and 19 scores.

In April, both Love and Lawrence are expected to be early NFL draft picks, which will be a historic feat for Wake Forest High, a school coming off back-to-back NCHSAA championships.

“It was a pleasure coaching those guys in high school and seeing them move on to college and doing such great things,” Wake Forest head coach Reggie Lucas said. “We are very proud of them here at the school.”

Lucas said he talks to both of his former players once a week despite their busy schedules and the demands of college football. Knowing that Love could possibly win a Heisman is “exciting” Lucas said, and the thought of both of them being first round picks is almost too difficult to put in words.

“It’s just awesome,” Lucas said. “That’s the feeling I get when I think about those accolades. It makes me proud that they do things the right way.”

When asked what he thinks about whenever he sees his two former stars doing big things, Lucas feels like they each put themselves in the right decision by making “great college choices.”

Both players could have gone anywhere in the country, and both decided to leave North Carolina.

“It seems like they both chose schools that were the best fit for them,” Lucas said.

Lawrence made an impact right away, starting as a freshman and helping the Tigers redeem a national title game defeat to Alabama the previous season. He was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year after collecting 55 tackles and five sacks, a Clemson freshman record.

Love played in 14 games as a true freshman in 2015, averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Having to back-up McCaffrey for two years kept Love out of the spotlight, but he quickly stepped out of McCaffrey’s shadow in 2017, rushing for 180 yards against Rice in the season-opener. He had seven straight 100-yard rushing games before missing the game at Oregon State on Oct. 26 with an injury. He rushed for only 69 yards against Washington State, his first game back, but rushed for at least 100 yards each of the remaining four games.

“Sometimes I just sit back and think about how fortunate I am to know those guys,” Lucas said. “I get excited when I see those guys on TV and see them in the Top 5 players in the country. That’s just awesome.”

Both players have remained humble throughout all the praise, and that doesn’t surprise Lucas as all, who said they are the same now as they were in high school. Even when he watches them do interviews now, Lucas pointed out how Love and Lawrence always give credit to their team and coaches.

Lucas also said Lawrence’s mom, Julia Parker, and Love’s parents, Chris and Angela, did great jobs raising them.

Individual awards and team goals aside for their final season (Lawrence is expected to leave school early), Lucas selfishly has one wish he would like to see come true: Clemson versus Stanford in a bowl game.

“Wow, that’s the cherry on top,” Lucas said. “I would love to see both teams make it to the College Football Playoff, win their games and then end up playing for the National Championship. That would be the ultimate game for us on this end.”

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