WAKE FOREST, N.C. – Wake Forest High 5-star defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence pulled out a Clemson hat to reveal his college destination at a press conference Monday at the school auditorium, but he did it with one final move.
The hat scene sounds simple and common in this age of high school recruiting press conferences, but the 6-foot-5, 330-pounder, ranked as high as the No. 1 prep recruit in the nation — and no lower than No. 3 among services that count — is familiar with deception. He used strength and slippery moves to deal with double-and triple-team blocking throughout his three-year varsity career for the Cougars.
Lawrence lined up these hats before him on a table atop the stage in this order, left-to-right: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, USC (Southern Cal in these parts; not South Carolina), N.C. State, Florida and North Carolina.
But instead of faking one way and reaching for another for a hat, the lights were dimmed. When the lights came up again, Lawrence was standing and wearing a Clemson hat.
He was met by loud cheers despite not staying home at N.C. State or North Carolina, but the applause may have been an indication of respect for him and the humbleness he has shown throughout his high school career.
“I felt like it was the best place for me,” said Lawrence, who is graduating this month and enrolling at Clemson in time for the next semester and spring football. “I got along with the coaches and enjoyed it every time I went there.”
Lawrence’s quickness allowed Wake Forest to play him at defensive end to better avoid double-and triple-teams and to pursue the ball. As a senior, he finished with 91 tackles and 13 sacks for 112 yards.
But Clemson recruited him as a defensive tackle. Tigers associate head coach/defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks is his position coach.
“Coach Brooks is a great guy,” Lawrence said. “I talked to guys on my official visit, and they said he will study you harder than you can study yourself.”
Lawrence said he made up his mind about a week ago, although Alabama coach Nick Saban made a final home visit on Dec. 9 and he visited N.C. State’s campus over the weekend. His final three choices were Clemson, N.C. State and Alabama.
“It was hard to turn down N.C. State,” Lawrence said. “I could have been a hometown hero, but I liked the feel (at Clemson). Alabama has history, but it didn’t feel right like Clemson.”
Lawrence said he had strong feelings for Clemson before the Tigers went 13-0 to earn the No. 1 berth in the College Playoff Berth, and likely would have committed without the unbeaten season.
Many highly ranked players from what is called the Triangle – Raleigh (N.C. State) to Durham (Duke) to Chapel Hill (North Carolina) – have a history of not only leaving the area but playing for the SEC. It’s an image problem the ACC fights, being perceived inferior to the SEC.
“The ACC-SEC thing didn’t matter to me,” Lawrence said. “I just went where I got the best feel.”