By Eric Boynton
SAN JOSE, Calif. — There was a rare moment late in the first quarter of Clemson’s win against South Carolina in the regular-season finale when quarterback Trevor Lawrence glared at the opposing bench after flinging a perfect touchdown throw.
It was a brief out of character moment for the freshman prodigy, whose emotions appear so robotic no matter the high and low swings of a particular game or even a series, it became a major topic of conversation following the game.
The 19-year-old will celebrate touchdowns with the best of them, sprinting to join teammates in the end zone, or punctuate a particularly clutch play with a fist pump. But beyond those brief flickers of emotion, Lawrence’s icy cool demeanor no matter the situation has become a focal point of his mature beyond his age performances.
“It’s just the way I was brought up, and then my faith,” Lawrence said. “No moment is too big. I feel like if I just keep myself grounded, I was made for moments like this and opportunities like these.”
Lawrence will take part in the greatest opportunity of his career in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship against top-ranked Alabama. It’s a sinister matchup for any quarterback, much less a teen making just his 11th career start and who, a little over a year ago, was watching on television as the Crimson Tide dominated the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.
Lawrence appeared his normal nonplussed self Saturday among the bright lights, endless cameras, and overall general hoopla that permeates the big game’s annual media day. Revealing little in the way of any overt emotion, the kid from small-town Georgia put forth his businesslike approach in declaring himself fully prepared, mentally and physically, for the rigors of facing the Crimson Tide.
“I’m not going to fear anything,” Lawrence said. “We’ve been preparing for this all year, and obviously not me personally, but this team has played them the past three years, so we kind of know what to expect at this point. I feel like a lot of teams come into the game with fear, and I think that’s a big thing that hurts them. They already think they’re going to lose before the game starts.”
Lawrence certainly played boldly in his playoff debut, winning Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the 30-3 Cotton Bowl win against Notre Dame. He completed 27 of 39 passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns and, undaunted after a sluggish start, was 12 of 15 for 229 yards and the three scores in just the second quarter as the Tigers quickly pulled away.
It’s fairly often some rocket-armed and/or fleet-footed youngster emerges briefly in the college game with all the physical gifts one could want, but it’s regularly the mental side of things, making good decisions with the ball and keeping one’s emotions in check no matter the circumstances, that keeps him from immediate greatness. The discussions regarding Lawrence’s early success are two-fold — he’s got one of the stronger and more accurate arms recently seen on a freshman, but his even-keeled demeanor and ability to see the whole field are arguably the bigger strengths.
If he was ever going to have the kind of freshman bumps in the road that can derail a team for a game or even an extended portion of a season, it seems the playoffs would be that time for Lawrence to undergo a few crucial hiccups. But many, including ESPN lead college analyst Kirk Herbstreit, don’t see it happening.
“I’ve heard a lot of analysts say they’re waiting for him to have that freshman moment,” Herbstreit said Friday via teleconference. “I just don’t see that happening based on watching almost every snap he’s taken this year. I can’t believe that guy is a true freshman. I don’t think I’ve seen a freshman that’s 6-foot-5, 215, and has an unflappable personality towards the big moment. That is unusual, it’s special.”
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