CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Joey King reaches into the middle drawer of his desk and pulls out a stack of more than 150 business cards wrapped in a rubber band.“These were all the college coaches who were here in the spring,” he says.
King, Carterville High’s football coach, says 24 coordinators and position coaches showed up on a single day at one point during the 15-day window the football team was holding spring practice at the school about an hour northwest of Atlanta. While each was evaluating multiple players, they all had their eyes on quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
At nearly 6-5 and 190 pounds with his blond hair peeking out from the back of his helmet, Lawrence is hard to miss simply by physical appearance. Watch him throw – even a little – and it gets harder to take your eyes off him.
“I say the same thing to every coach that comes in,” King says. “Coach, ‘Whatever category you want to ask me about, he’s the real deal.’ That’s all I can say. Good student, good boy, character is good. Strong arm. Good feet. Size, strength. There’s not a category that I can think of that I’m not satisfied with.’ ”
Despite all the attention from recruiters, Lawrence is only halfway through his sophomore season. He just turned 16 last week — including a birthday tweet from Cam Newton — and plans to get his driver’s license this week.
After winning the starting job five games into his freshman season and helping Cartersville reach the state semifinals, Lawrence was named the national freshman of the year. Last spring, 247Sports named him the No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2018 and national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons says “he made it really easy on us.” He has 15 scholarship offers, a number that figures to multiply. He’s already been invited to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the one to be played in January 2018 after his senior season. When he went to Clemson for the game a few weeks ago, a picture of Lawrence in an orange raincoat popped up on Twitter.
It seems like it could be all so overwhelming – and it might be – but you can’t tell by talking to Lawrence.
During an interview with USA TODAY High School Sports in his coach’s office, Lawrence peppered most of his responses with “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” and showed the level-headed, calm demeanor that his coaches and teammates say he displays on the field.
“I don’t think about it too much,” he says. “Everybody who knows who I am is looking at me on the next level. I’m focused on what we’re doing here now. Sure, it’s pretty fun and I enjoy it, but you have to make it there and do what you’re supposed to do in high school first.”
Asked to boast a little about when he knew he had a chance to be a special player, he smiles.
“Maybe at 9 or 10 years old, I thought I could be pretty good if I could get it going,” he says.
Before the season, Lawrence, his coaches and father put together a game plan to deal with it all.
The first piece was limited activity on social media. Lawrence sent out a tweet before the season began that said he appreciated the attention from the media and recruiting analysts but directed all inquiries to King or his father. “For the next few months, my focus will be on academics and helping my team and myself prepare for Friday nights and winning a state championship,” the tweet said.
He has tweeted occasionally with highlights or messages about upcoming games. He also has tweeted when he was going to visit colleges. He went to the Tennessee-Oklahoma game in Knoxville, the Clemson-Notre Dame game at Clemson and returned to Knoxville this past weekend, where the Vols came from behind to beat his home-state Georgia Bulldogs.
But clearly, he knows what others want to talk about. Just last week, he tweeted, “Please don’t hit me up if all you’re gonna do is ask where I’m going … ”
He only does selected interviews. He’s is available briefly after every game to answer any questions but only talks to the media sporadically otherwise, about once every two weeks. The coaches have asked reporters who cover the team regularly to limit recruiting questions.
Though the starting quarterback, Lawrence fulfills team responsibilities expected of sophomores. The team held a community youth clinic worked by the upperclassmen, but the coaches told Lawrence that he was excused. Despite being a team leader in a prominent position, he is a sophomore and the sophomores weren’t expected to work the clinic. When he returns to the sideline – except when he’s talking to coaches or huddling with the offense – Lawrence stands with the sophomores.
The coaches and the Lawrences have also decided he will be somewhat restricted when it comes to camps and showcases. He has attended a number in the past year and will continue to attend them, but isn’t likely to stay beyond a day or two. The coaches and the family say they recognize some of those appearances help provide exposure for the recruiting rankings, but also don’t want Trevor to get worn down. King says there is a period after each season where they don’t want Lawrence to even pick up a football.“We don’t need him going to USC or anywhere and throwing 5,000 passes over four days,” Cartersville quarterbacks coach Michael Bail said. “He’s put enough on film that coaches can see him. He will go in one day and throw and then we want him back here in the weight room and spending time with his teammates.”
He also is mulling playing basketball depending on when the football season ends. There aren’t that many athletic 6-5 boys walking around the halls at Cartersville, and it will get him away from all football, all the time. King says he is a big believer in multisport athletes and would wholeheartedly support him if Lawrence wanted to play basketball.
“Everybody here is keeping me level-headed,” Lawrence says. “They don’t treat me any different and they shouldn’t. I’m working just as hard as everybody else. That keeps my head on straight. I’m just in high school like every other player.”
The goal in all this is to make sure Lawrence gets to be a kid somewhere amid the hoopla. Barring injury, he will have started more than 40 high school games before he gets to college.
“I tell him, ‘You need to do whatever you like to do when you don’t have a football in your hand.’ ” Bail says. “He’s going have to find a hobby because he does nothing other than play football.”
Bail says his biggest fear is that being a teenager will take a back seat to the hoopla.
“We had prepared for it knowing it was probably coming his way,” he said. “I preach to him every day, be humbled, we’re not going to worry the rankings, the hype. All we’re worried about is being better today than you were yesterday, being a great teammates and being a good student.
“The one thing I told him from Day One is, ‘We’re not going to put a dog and pony show on for anyone. We are going to go out and do what we do and not run circles for anybody.’ ”
Lawrence made it clear he’s in no rush, even if everyone else is. A commitment from him – especially an early commitment – would help any college bolster its class because players want to play with him. He concedes he has his eye on a several Georgia players whom he’d like to play with in college, although he correctly points out, “Their decision is their decision just like my decision is my decision.”
His only timetable is to be in position to enroll in college early so he can take part in spring practice.
“I think it’s important for a QB to get in and learn the offense and it will give me a better sense of starting early. That’s a goal for me is to start my first year,” Lawrence said.
As he gets better, he will only be more coveted at the next level.
“He’s a pro-style QB and he’s one of those guys we love, but he’s not statuesque back there,” Simmons, from 247Sports, says. “He’s got functional athleticism. He can move the pocket. He can throw to different platforms. He can improvise. He’s a big kid but can do it all.”
Finding the QB
King, in his second year at Cartersville, had done his research before he took the job and heard about a phenom quarterback in the eighth grade. The varsity program was entering the season without a clear starter at quarterback, although an upperclassmen was seemingly in line for the position. The coaches wanted to evaluate him and Lawrence before making their choice.
King and Bail remember the specific play in the summer of 2014 that made them look at each other and go, “Whoa”: Lawrence whizzed the ball past a linebacker’s head on a skinny post.
“I had never seen a ninth grader throw a football that looked like that,” Bail says.
Bail then charted details of every drive through the first few games. The decision to go with Lawrence came down to this, he says: Cartersville was scoring more with Lawrence.
When the decision was made, the coaches were adamant about one thing: If they were going with the freshman, they were going with the freshman for the season.
What happened from there was an unbeaten run to the state semifinals before a painful 27-3 loss to Buford, a game in which Lawrence was knocked around by the veteran Buford defense. Where he impressed again, though, was that he didn’t get flustered. He says now that he made “some mistakes” and his “inexperience showed.”
Lawrence finished his freshman year with 3,042 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions and continued to gain the confidence of his upperclassmen teammates.
“It’s easy to have him as the quarterback,” said left tackle Parker Robinson, a two-year starter. “He knows what he’s doing and you know he’s going to know what to do on every play.
“By the time he’s a senior, he’s going to be something serious.”
The Lawrence leap from Year 1 to Year 2 has been impressive.
“He’s bigger, stronger, faster, smarter and has a better understanding of what we’re doing and a better understanding of what we need him to do to be successful offensively,” Bail said. “His mental approach to the game to prepare each week is probably the biggest difference.”
Cartersville has been able to expand its playbook and King and Bail say there really isn’t anything they don’t feel they can do. Lawrence is able to learn and execute whatever they throw at him, and his teammates have risen to the occasion.“My expectations are as high as can be. We want to maximize all our players’ athletic potential and his is extremely high,” King says. “We’re pushing him to be the best Trevor he can be. He responds to that really well because he also wants to be the best Trevor he can be. It’s not like he says, ‘Well, I’m good enough already. He continues to improve his game.”
King says they haven’t see any defenses specifically geared toward stopping Lawrence. “People have held true to what they do,” he says.
Lawrence’s goals are 4,000 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and only four interceptions for the season, although he admits those are just numbers. The state title is really what he wants.
Cartersville is 6-0 with four regular-season games remaining. The team has scored at least 30 points every game and more than 40 in five of the six.
He knows the next steps are to get better at his footwork, get bigger and stronger in the weight room, improve his mental preparation and keep his upper body mechanics tight.
And, as he points out, those are the only things he can control, regardless where he’s ranked.
“It’s a crazy thing,” he says. “Last April, I had no offers. No one really knew who I was. Now I’ve gotten so much better and improved and it just doesn’t stop.”