The nation’s No. 2 player is joining the No. 1 team.
Dexter Lawrence, Wake Forest High’s star defensive tackle who is ranked the nation’s No. 2 high school football player according to Rivals.com, committed to Clemson at a ceremony Monday at his school. He chose the undefeated Tigers over offers from N.C. State, North Carolina, Alabama, Southern Cal, Florida and Ohio State, among others.
He said he selected Clemson for both the football program and to get a good education, as he plans to study engineering.
Lawrence sat a table with the seven hats lined up before announcing. The school’s auditorium went completely black, and Lawrence’s dark figure reached for the Clemson-orange hat. His decision was met with rowdy applause once the lights returned. He, his mother and his younger brother, Devon, were the only people who knew his choice before the ceremony.
“I’m relieved,” said Lawrence, a convincing blend of speed and strength on the football field. “I just feel relaxed now, and all the weight is off my shoulders.”
At 6 feet, 4 inches and 340 pounds, Lawrence has been a game-changing player for the Cougars through his high school career. The Cap-8 player of the year anchored a defense that helped Wake Forest reach back-to-back N.C. High School Athletic Association state football championship games.
This year’s team was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state before falling in the second round.
Clemson’s status as ACC champions, on top of being unbeaten, had little to do with Lawrence’s choice, he said.
“The big thing was how I was going to fit in,” he said, “what was the plan there for me ...”
Lawrence’s last visit to Clemson was Nov. 7, and he finished his last high school classes on Friday in order to leave for college early. He will be enrolled at Clemson, which is about 300 miles away from his hometown, in January and is one of 20 early graduates from Wake Forest.
Coupled with final exams and coursework down the stretch of his recruitment, last-minute calls hurled Lawrence into a frenzy. So, he kept quiet.
He used the last couple of weeks to, in a sense, recruit the programs.
“After last week, I really felt like I knew who was real and who was fake just getting a perspective of how they were going to be (as far as) coaching,” Lawrence said. “I was recruiting them. I started looking up things about them, seeing how they coach and how many players they have in the NFL.”
Sixteen players were drafted into the NFL out of Clemson last year, according to ESPN.com. The 13-0 Tigers will play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in Miami on New Year’s Eve.
Lawrence’s defensive line coach Blake Brooks said the five-star recruit can be an impact player.
“He wants to be a great football player, and he’s determined to do that,” Brook said about Lawrence. “He has it – determination, discipline. Dexter is determined to be the best player there is.”
Lawrence had 91 tackles this season, 21 for loss with 13 sacks. He had 25 tackles for loss as a junior and 19 as a sophomore.
After standout performances at summer camps, Lawrence was ranked as high as the No. 1 player in the country by Rivals.com.
He is the highest-ranked player from North Carolina since 2012, when Rivals.com ranked offensive lineman D.J. Humphries of Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High at No. 2. Humphries went to Florida and was a first-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals.
Lawrence was an All-American and The N&O football player of the year in 2014.
Staff writer J. Mike Blake contributed to this report.
Where they’re going
The top-ranked football players in N.C., according to Rivals.com.
1. DT Dexter Lawrence, Wake Forest
2. OL Landon Dickerson, South Caldwell
3. RB B.J. Emmons, Freedom
4. RB Antonio Williams, North Stanly
5. WR Diondre Overton, Page
6. TE Thaddeus Moss, Mallard Creek
7. DB Marquill Osborne, Hough
8. WR Cornell Powell, J.H. Rose
9. DE Nick Coe, Asheboro
10. DE Julian Okwara, Ardrey Kell
11. DE Josh Brown, Mallard Creek
12. LB Keion Joyner, Havelock
13. DB Myles Dorn, ZB Vance
14. RB Abdul Adams, Hillside
15. RB Jordon Brown, Southern Durham
16. QB Chazz Surratt, East Lincoln
17. OL Sean Pollard, Pinecrest
18. QB Austin Kendall, Cuthbertson
19. DB Isaiah Stallings, Fayetteville Terry Sanford
20. WR Divine Deablo, Mount Tabor