High School Sports

Recruitment ‘smooth sailing’ for UNC target Devon Lawrence – thanks to brother Dexter

Devon Lawrence might be one of the few high school football players who’s lived through the recruiting process more than once.

When the Wake Forest High senior running back was a sophomore, his older brother Dexter was a senior and the top defensive lineman in the state and No. 2 in the nation.

So when top college football programs made their way to their high school or made home visits to talk to Dexter, Devon was always right there, taking it all in. Devon even went with Dexter on his recruiting trips, tagging along to places like Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson, where Dexter committed in November 2015 and is now a sophomore star defensive tackle.

While Dexter was being recruited by big-time college programs, Devon was also emerging as a talented football player. The three-star running back moved up to the varsity team two games into his freshman season, splitting carries with his friend, running back Bryce Love – who’s now the nation’s leading rusher as a junior at Stanford. By the time Devon started getting his own serious looks from college coaches, there wasn’t a whole lot they could throw at him that he hadn’t already seen or heard.

“I kind of already knew what I wanted because I had been on so many trips with him,” Devon said about Dexter, who was the 2016 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. “Just being under him I already knew what would fit me best.”

Devon, before the start of this football season, narrowed down his list of potential colleges to five: North Carolina, Georgia, LSU, UCLA and Tennessee. That list is now down to two – UNC and UCLA – and Devon will make his announcement as to where he’s going Friday night after he and Wake Forest (10-0, 4-0 Northern 4A) take on rival Heritage (10-0, 4-0).

This season, Devon, who’s 5-11 and 195 pounds, leads Wake Forest with 896 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. Last year he and four-star defensive end Xach Gill, who’s now a redshirt freshman defensive lineman at North Carolina, led the Cougars to the 4AA state title, defeating Greensboro Page 29-0. Devon and his coach, Reggie Lucas, watched as Gill kept the steady flow of Division I coaches coming through the halls at Wake Forest High.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Lucas said. “I went to school here and played here and we never got recruited by the big Division I schools. For us now to have, probably in the last six years, a kid go to a big school each year, it’s kind of amazing. But I think the guys who are being recruited, it helps because when the big schools come they aren’t in awe. When a Carolina or Clemson or even Alabama comes through the school, the kids know how to handle it.”

Devon also learned a lot from his brother Dexter going through the recruiting process. Devon was usually in the room whenever Lucas would talk to Dexter. Devon, for the most part, would just sit and listen. But from time to time, a coach – from N.C. State’s Dave Doeren to Ohio State’s Urban Meyer – would involve him in the conversation, knowing he also had talent and could possibly end up on their radar.

Devon got his first offer – from N.C. State – his freshman season. By that time, Dexter had more than 30. Not sure how to react, Devon turned to Dexter for advice.

“I would just ask him how to handle it when coaches talk to you and call your phone, stuff like that,” Devon said.

Devon said he gets his laid-back demeanor from Dexter, who’s 6-5, 350 pounds, soft spoken and quick with a smile. Their mom, Julia Parker, said Devon is slightly more vocal, but even through all the attention, he doesn’t talk much about football. Now that Devon’s college list is down to two, the topic barely comes up at all anymore. Parker said Dexter’s recruitment was “much more hectic” but she was glad to have that period as a reference point.

“This rodeo was a little bit more calm,” Parker said. “It was smooth sailing.”

Some coaches, Parker explained, thought they could get the Lawrence brothers as a package deal, but when Dexter picked Clemson, some schools stopped calling Devon. A few – Clemson, UNC, Tennessee – remained in contact.

Dexter, who has 25 total tackles and 1.5 sacks in 8 games at Clemson so far this season, was the bigger college target of the two brothers, but Parker is equally excited about Devon, saying it is big to have both children who are excellent in football and academics. Dexter is a proud big brother who has watched Devon work to get out of his shadow.

“I love the success he’s having,” Dexter said about Devon. “He worked hard for it. Even when I was in high school, he wanted to stand out on his own. He understood what it took. He challenged himself to win a state championship because I never did.”

Dexter said Devon brags about winning that state title, knowing Dexter was 0-2 in state championship games, something that still stings. Dexter won a national title last year with Clemson, but is still sour his brother won a championship in high school.

“That’s not the same,” Dexter said. “The national championship, that’s fun and all, but when you win the state championship, high school football is real fun, college football is more like a business. High school you’re with all your friends and you can brag to the other schools because you know everybody.”

Dexter will be at Wake Forest High Friday when Devon makes his announcement, and said he’ll be just as surprised as everyone else with Devon’s choice.

Devon said he’s looking for a school that feels like home, and also a place where he could have an early opportunity to play. Devon made up his mind “a while” ago and is finally ready to make the announcement, he said. He’s tired of people trying to get him to say where he’s going. A few days ago, someone he hadn’t heard from since middle school sent him a message asking him about his decision. Fans have also reached out to him on social media, and last week, while Devon was taking a visit to North Carolina, students spotted him on the sidelines of the UNC-Miami game and started chanting “No Bruins, No Bruins.”

“It kind of shocked me, but I figured that’s what I would be getting into, so I guess I should get used to it,” Devon said.

Dexter said the last time he and Devon talked about recruiting was about a month ago, when Devon asked his brother how he would know which school was the right one.

“I just told him he has to go where he fits in best,” Dexter said. “Which coaches are being genuine to him, understanding that everyone doesn’t always have good intentions. That’s what he has to figure out.”

For Devon, it seems like he’s been through the recruiting process twice – or three times, if you count Love, who is now a Heisman contender and leads the nation in rushing with 1,387 yards.

“It was pretty easy, really, after Bryce and I saw how he handled it. We were close and Bryce was always a quiet person,” Devon said. “I can relate more to him because he was a running back. Like, attention doesn’t really bother me. Then I saw Dex go through it, it was bigger and I knew how I would handle it. The main thing Dex would preach to me was to be humble and not to let it overwhelm me.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV