THIBODAUX, LA. — Last summer, Trevor Lawrence didn’t do much. He went to Steve Clarkson’s quarterback camp in Los Angeles and Clemson’s football camp. But nobody really knew who he was then, so, as he puts it, he “just kind of hung out.”
A year later, and there’s been no casual hanging out for Lawrence this summer. As a true freshman at Clemson, he won the starting job five weeks in and put up one of the best seasons ever for a true freshman quarterback, leading the Tigers to a national title. Lawrence is now a household name, and he’s barely had time to relax. “No one knew too much about me [last summer], so it was a different time for sure,” Lawrence says.
Lawrence, who has been busy making appearances at many more football camps this summer, was invited to be a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, a football camp for high school quarterbacks, tight ends and receivers. Every year, the Mannings—Archie, Cooper, Peyton and Eli—invite 40 of the NCAA’s top starting quarterbacks to work as counselors at the four-day camp held on Nicholls State’s campus in Thibodaux, La. An invite to work at the MPA, in its 24th year this summer, has become something of an honor and a rite of passage for college quarterbacks.
When Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, who Lawrence defeated in the national championship, dropped out at the last second with a minor hamstring strain, Lawrence became the clear camp headliner. Campers flocked to Lawrence for selfie and autograph requests. A camp security staffer often followed him on his way off the field to the staff break room. A look through Instagram photos that Lawrence is tagged in shows 42 selfies posted by eager campers.
Each MPA counselor is assigned a group of campers that they coach during practice sessions and another group for the seven-on-seven games each evening of the camp. Lawrence coached a 7-on-7 group of Isidore Newman High School football players that included Cooper Manning’s son, Arch Manning, a rising freshman, who has already gone viral for his play in a varsity scrimmage. Among the group of college quarterback counselors were two familiar faces for Lawrence: Kelly Bryant, who transferred to Missouri after Lawrence beat him out for the starting job at Clemson, and Hunter Johnson, who transferred to Northwestern shortly after Lawrence arrived at Clemson.
NFL personnel who have passed through the camp have told me that there is a lot to learn about a quarterback‘s character at MPA—from how they coach up the kids in their group and how they interact with the other college quarterbacks to whether they show up on time for the staff meetings and how seriously they take the whole situation.
I wanted to see for myself what I could learn about Lawrence in this unconventional setting. Though his on-field play suggests otherwise, Lawrence is a quiet guy who prefers to keep a low profile. Despite being the biggest name of the college counselors, he didn’t show up for his scheduled media availability with reporters at MPA.
Among the 1,145 campers and 42 college counselors (and many more counselors who are high school coaches, private quarterback coaches, NFL players or former college and NFL coaches) spread out over 26 different fields, I thought it would be easy to track down Lawrence because of his height (6’ 5”) and his signature shoulder-length blonde hair. I wandered from field to field in the 90-degree heat searching for Lawrence, and was fooled once by a tall camper with similar long locks. After an hour of scanning, I asked a staffer to point me to Lawrence’s group. Old QBs 32A. Field 12.
I’d passed by this field once before and missed Lawrence completely because his recognizable hair was covered up by a beige bucket hat. A pair of sunglasses with orange reflective lenses hid his eyes. Lawrence patiently coached his players and led them through drills. Lawrence is only 19 years old, just a few years older than these campers, who were rising sophomores, juniors and seniors, 15-18 years old. As he came off the field after a morning practice session, I asked him if he still felt like one of the teens he was coaching.
“I do feel older in the sense of where I am, I feel like I have experienced a lot,” Lawrence says. “But no, I can remember clearly just a few years ago being in their shoes. I am not that much older, it wasn't too long ago.”
Because of his newfound fame, Lawrence is hyper-aware of everything he does and says. When I asked to interview him as he led his group off the field, he asked me what I planned to ask him before he agreed to talk. He knows the NFL has its eye on him and that he’s being closely watched. During the time I stood watching him coach one practice session, an NFL exec looked on, Cooper Manning parked his golf cart near Lawrence’s field and Jim Nagy, the director of the senior bowl and a well-connected former scout, also watched the quarterback.
Lawrence knows the expectations for his sophomore season are impossibly high, so he purposely avoids reading most of what is written about him. He said he doesn’t feel the pressure or weight of those expectations, but is of course, wants to build off his freshman season and be even better.
When Lawrence reached Guidry Stadium, where all the college quarterback counselors dropped off their groups of campers for roll call, our interview was interrupted by a swarm of requests for selfies. Lawrence obliged the campers with pictures, and then quietly turned and jogged off the field and down the tunnel, searching for a break from the madness that will only grow as his sophomore season approaches.
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