Oct. 9, 2013
Carl Lawon had six tackles and two sacks against Ole Miss last Saturday (Todd Van Emst Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – From the very start, Carl Lawson loved to hit. Even as an 8-year-old nose tackle playing recreation football, he loved to chase quarterbacks.
But he didn’t look the part.
“I was real small,” Lawson says. “I was a runt, but I loved playing hard and loved playing d-line and making hits and sacking the quarterback.”
Lawson, at 6-foot-2 and 258 pounds, is nothing resembling a runt these days.
After an All-American career at Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga., he was a 5-star prospect who could have signed with virtually any program in the country. He chose Auburn. And in last Saturday’s 30-22 victory over Ole Miss, he broke through with six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
It was a day for which defensive line coach Rodney Garner had waited since Lawson arrived already looking the part of a Southeastern Conference defensive end.
“He’s improved,” Garner says. “He’s a guy that is very conscientious. He comes to work every day. He spends time over here watching film on his own. He wants to be good. It’s been fun to watch him develop.”
Lawson knew his time would come, even when he struggled with some of the intricacies of playing defensive end in the nation’s toughest league.
“It was really just the mental aspect and like getting used to the crowd,” Lawson says. “I didn’t think there was physically any problem with that. I was able to calm myself on Saturday.”
And Lawson is just getting started. He has the loftiest of goals.
"I just want to be the best I can be," Lawson says. "The ultimate goal is I want to be the best to ever play. That’s something everybody wants. I don’t know if I’ll get there, but I just want to work hard to do it."
Getting used to Garner’s intensity on the field, Lawson says, took some time. But it paid off Saturday night in a crucial game.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better with my technique,” Lawson says. “That’s what Coach Garner forces on you, doing what you’re told to do. I think I’ve gotten a lot better by going against the best. Going against (left tackle) Greg Robinson in practice helps a lot.”
Carl Lawson Jr. was a rambunctious 8-year-old who loved action cartoons and action figures when his father, a former Georgia Tech fullback, signed him up to play football for the first time. By the time he was in middle school, he was a muscular but still smallish defensive lineman. In high school, he grew into a prototypical defensive end with size, strength and elite athleticism.
“I got real muscular coming into high school,” Lawson says. “Then I started getting bigger as I got older. I was chubby, then I got real skinny, then got sort of cut up and started growing.”
It was the summer after his junior year in high school that Lawson began to believe he could do big things with the game he loved. Offers were already rolling in, but it was what happened on the field that convinced him.
“It wasn’t the offers,” Lawson says. “I saw some guys that I didn’t think very good get offers, but I knew I was good when I got to compete against the best of the best in the Georgia Junior Bowl. I knew I could play then.”
Soft-spoken off the field, Lawson says he didn’t really enjoy the recruiting process. But from his first visit, he saw Auburn as a place he would like to play. In March of 2012, almost 11 months before signing day, he committed.
“I thought Auburn was just a great place, close to home,” Lawson says. “It’s proved me right ever since I came here. It’s just a great place. It helps you grow physically, mentally and spiritually.”
Lawson was shaken last December when Auburn head coach Gene Chizik was fired and Gus Malzahn took over as head coach. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and defensive line coach Mike Pelton had recruited him from the start, and they were gone, too.
“I just didn’t know,” Lawson says. “I loved Auburn no matter what. It gave me a little pause. “I didn’t know what the new staff wanted. I didn’t know if I was a fit for them.”
They soon convinced him he was, and Lawson signed with Auburn in February. Lawson says it’s been everything he hoped it would be and even more.
“Yeah, especially with Coach Malzahn,” Lawson says. “They are getting it back to what Auburn used to be, not just on the field but how we train, academics and basically being able to represent and be what an Auburn man is. They are redefining everything around here.”
Lawson was one of three 5-star defensive linemen who signed with Auburn, joining tackle Montravius Adams and end Elijah Daniel. Garner says they are all making steady progress, and it showed against Ole Miss.
“I was very pleased with them,” Garner says. “I think they went out there and worked hard. I think they are buying into what we want done. Hopefully, it will be a consistent thing. We don’t need to play good one week and bad another week and this or that. Hopefully, we can do it on a consistent basis. The way they played Saturday is what I’ve been waiting to see out of these guys.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: