JOHN SIMPSON FLOATED through the room, 330 pounds of joy maneuvering through a throng of yapping radio personalities camped out in a hotel lobby at this year’s ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte, North Carolina. He wore a gray suit, a floral tie and, atop his normal mop of tight cornrows, a lustrous blond wig. He brushed it back with a swipe of his hand and a flip of his head like some playful ingenue.
The look: Trevor Lawrence chic.
The impersonation was his coach’s idea. The talking heads all wanted Lawrence, the well-coiffed Clemson sophomore quarterback who, at the age of 19, is one of this season’s Heisman Trophy favorites. Instead, they got Simpson, the senior offensive lineman. So Dabo Swinney bought the wig in advance and foisted it upon Simpson. “This is going to go viral,” he said. It did.
Still, Simpson’s impression felt a little one-note. Everyone knows about the hair. So what else is there to the man? What can Simpson’s take tell us about the real guy?
Simpson reclined, shook his head.
“Trevor,” he says, “doesn’t really do anything.”
Au contraire, Mr. Simpson, au contraire. Here are 13 stories that take us inside the unexplored legend of young Trevor Lawrence.
JEREMY AND AMANDA Lawrence had two boys. Chase was older, the artist. Trevor, the athlete, came five years later.
By the time Trevor was 3, he spent Saturdays in his dad’s lap, crowded into an armchair to watch SEC football. The family, from Tennessee, treated Volunteers football as appointment television. As Trevor got older, Jeremy toted him to Neyland Stadium to see the Vols in person, after which Trevor took to the backyard to toss footballs and imagine he was Peyton Manning.
By fifth grade, Lawrence dodged peewee tacklers with a gangly brilliance. His grandfather dubbed him “Crazy Legs” Lawrence. By eighth grade, the family hired a QB trainer, Ron Veal, to work with Trevor during the offseason. By ninth grade, Clemson recruiting coordinator Brandon Streeter became a fixture at Lawrence’s games in Cartersville, Georgia. By 10th grade, every school in the country wanted a piece of Trevor Lawrence.
In summer 2019, Lawrence finally met his childhood idol at the Manning Passing Academy. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who mentored Manning in college at Tennessee, traded texts with his protégé after the camp concluded. He wanted to know what Manning thought of the hotshot Clemson star, who beat Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils 35-6 last season.
“Well,” Manning texted back, “he stared at me a lot.”
MILLER FORRISTALL SHOULD’VE been Cartersville High School’s star QB, if not for this kid — this middle school kid — who showed up to spring ball in 2014 with eyes on the job. People were already buzzing about Lawrence, but Forristall wasn’t buying the hype.
“The kid’s in eighth grade,” Forristall thought. “How good could he be?”
“I saw him throw one ball,” Forristall says, “and I knew he was legit.”
Forristall switched positions. He became one of Lawrence’s favorite targets and closest friends and eventually landed a scholarship to Alabama — where he plays tight end.
MAXPREPS NAMED LAWRENCE the nation’s top freshman quarterback after the 2014 season, and his coach, Joey King, phoned Lawrence to deliver the news.
The QB answered, and King gushed.
“Hey, Coach,” Lawrence interrupted. “I’m in the middle of a video game. Can I call you back?”
King was stunned.
About 10 minutes later, King’s phone buzzed. He picked up and blurted out the news again.
“That’s cool,” Lawrence said. “So what are we doing in the weight room tomorrow?”
LAWRENCE HAD SUITORS from across the country, but the toughest day of his recruitment occurred one afternoon during his junior season. Alabama coach Nick Saban was on the line, and a Cartersville team meeting was about to start.
Michael Bail, Cartersville’s quarterbacks coach, poked his head in on Lawrence and screamed at his starter to get off the phone. The team’s own meeting had begun. What was Lawrence supposed to do here? “It’s the only time I ever remember him being late for a meeting,” Bail says.
What Lawrence didn’t know? Bail knew full well that Saban was on the phone. “Now I had him in an uncomfortable position,” Bail says.
Lawrence asked for another minute but still couldn’t shake Saban, and when Bail returned for the second time, he acted like he wasn’t interested in excuses. Lawrence was out of time.
“OK, Coach, I’ve gotta go,” Lawrence said into the phone, hanging up on the legendary Crimson Tide coach.
TONY DEAN WAS a senior receiver for Cartersville in 2016 and usually a reliable target. But during a regular-season game, he’d endured a brutal first half — a couple of drops, a fumble — in an otherwise forgettable game that Cartersville would eventually win easily. Dean was rattled.
Early in the third quarter, Lawrence had the offense humming. The Hurricanes drove into the red zone, and Lawrence took a shotgun snap, looking for a score. His first read was wide open in the back of the end zone. His second dragged across the middle, no defenders in sight. As pressure came up the middle, Lawrence rolled out to his right and sprinted toward the sideline. Just before stepping out of bounds, he unleashed a bullet, past a couple of defenders, and hit Dean, his third read, in the hands in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
“I saw him throw one ball, and I knew he was legit.”
Miller Forristall, who lost the Cartersville QB job to an eighth-grade Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence trotted to the sideline, where Coach Bail was livid. What the heck was Lawrence looking at?
“Coach,” Lawrence said, “if we’re making a playoff run, we need Tony. And Tony needed that catch today.”
IT WAS A stiflingly hot Saturday in late August 2017, and the air conditioning inside Cartersville’s locker room had been turned off. Saturday games were rare, but this was a nationally televised showdown between Lawrence’s Hurricanes and Bartram Trail, a football behemoth from Florida. Lightning had the entire production on hold.
Coaches, athletic directors and officials huddled to assess the situation while the players baked at their lockers, still in full uniform. During that meeting, Lawrence knocked on the door to request some Gatorade for the team.
A few minutes later, it occurred to Bail that the coolers were still on the field, so he marched into the locker room. Inside, he found Lawrence, hunched over a cooler, mixing up a vat of powdered energy drink.
“Then he goes out and throws four touchdowns,” Bail says.
It didn’t take long for Clemson team leaders to realize that trash-talking Trevor Lawrence wouldn’t end well for them. Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports
DURING ONE OF Lawrence’s first practices at Clemson in the spring of 2018 — he’d committed during his junior year at Cartersville — he rolled to his right and ran smack into a sack. In practice, QBs can’t be hit, but Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell — the unquestioned team leaders, both ultimately first-round NFL draft picks — delivered the verbal equivalent, reminding the hotshot freshman that his hype didn’t amount to squat here.
“Christian was in his ear,” running back Darien Rencher says. “I don’t mean figuratively. He was literally yelling into Trevor’s ear.”
Lawrence said nothing, just gathered the offense. On the next play, he rolled right again, but this time, before getting slapped by the rush, he unleashed a laser, across his body and 30 yards downfield — with no arc, Ferrell swears — finding the hands of his receiver.
“I’d never seen nothing like that,” Ferrell says. “I knew he had something special.”
Lawrence stared down his tormenters long enough to send a message, before celebrating the touchdown with the offense.
“We were trying to break him,” Ferrell says. “But he always stayed even-keeled.”
SUCH AN ATTITUDE, however, hasn’t helped him on the golf course. One of Lawrence’s favorite receivers, Clemson legend Hunter Renfrow, says, “He’s probably the worst golfer I’ve ever seen.”
Lawrence’s approach has long infuriated his playing partners. “He just goes out there,” Renfrow says, “he’s got the long hair, takes 10 practice swings, fixes his hair, goes back and takes four more practice swings. It takes 45 minutes to finish one hole.”
And if you’re behind him? Good luck. “You’re just like, ‘Trevor, come on!'” Renfrow says. “So he’ll take 45 minutes and he’ll shank it to the right. And it’s like, ‘You could have done that in three seconds!'”
LAWRENCE IS 6-FOOT-6, sports that famous hairdo and lives in a town of about 17,000 people. In other words, he’s hard to miss. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell recalls a moment when Lawrence was stopped at a traffic light. A girl in the next car recognized the star signal-caller, got out, ran to his window and asked for a selfie. Lawrence obliged; the girl bounced back to her car and drove away.
Dan Lian, Lawrence’s pastor at NewSpring Church in Clemson, South Carolina, has seen a crowd of fans block the drive-thru at a local Smoothie King because they didn’t want Lawrence to escape with his beverage before they’d gotten a photo.
Amanda Lawrence remembers fans asking for autographs when her son was in eighth grade.
“He’s gracious to a fault,” Lian says. “It throws you a little bit, because he probably shouldn’t be like that.”
LAWRENCE HAS ALWAYS been great with babies. Like, weirdly great. He was 11 when his sister, Olivia, was born, and Amanda Lawrence still recalls the pure joy on Trevor’s face when he first saw the newborn. It seems all kids can sense that warmth.
“We’re all friendly guys,” says Rencher, Lawrence’s closest friend on the team, “but he’s a baby whisperer.”
Without fail, someone will hand a baby to Lawrence — some infant he’s never met, in various stages of meltdown — and it just coos and smiles. Then Rencher steps into the frame and the tears flow again.
“It’s weird,” Rencher says. “I don’t know if it’s the hair and they think he’s a mom, but they legit love him.”
MARISSA MOWRY AND Trevor Lawrence have been dating, off and on, since eighth grade, and she can’t remember a date with Lawrence that wasn’t interrupted by a photo request — especially since Clemson’s 44-16 victory over Bama in last season’s national title game. Sometimes it’s small kids or teenage boys in awe of their hero, but usually it’s adults, and they always have a story. They know somebody who knows somebody who went to Clemson, so this is OK, right? Usually Lawrence is cool about the whole thing. He’s a people-pleaser at heart, his girlfriend says.
This spring, they were out to dinner at a little taco place in Greenville, South Carolina, and the interruptions had Mowry in a somber mood. They’d gone bowling the night before. The alley offers $3 games, and it’s a cheap date that’s become something of a tradition for them. But as Lawrence’s profile grows, she worries nights like those will become impossible.
“Soon,” she says, on the verge of tears, “we won’t be able to do $3 bowling whenever we want.”
Lawrence furrows his brow, shakes his head, feigning concern.
“No,” he says. “[It’ll be] because of inflation.”
Talk about a storybook ending: Trevor Lawrence went 20-for-32 for 347 yards and three touchdowns in Clemson’s 44-16 win over Alabama in last season’s national championship game. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
BRODY PARKER IS pretty much like every 9-year-old boy at Cartersville Primary School. He’s obsessed with sports and, in particular, he loves Trevor Lawrence. His dad, Danny, has a photo of Brody slapping hands with Lawrence as the quarterback walked to the bus en route to the 2016 state championship game.
Brody spent the afternoon of June 1 swimming in his backyard pool. That evening, he told his parents he wasn’t feeling well, was having trouble breathing. Worried, they drove him to the emergency room for tests. By 2 a.m. the next morning, he was on life support.
The diagnosis was heart failure, which in turn led to an embolic stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. Brody barely survived the night. Doctors told Danny and Courtney Parker that their son needed a heart transplant and that in the interim they’d perform open-heart surgery to install a device that would keep the organ pumping.
Lawrence’s sister, Olivia, was one of Brody’s classmates, and word of Brody’s status soon made its way to Clemson. When Brody awoke after surgery, he saw a video on his dad’s phone. Lawrence had recorded it at Clemson on his cell, then texted it to Danny. He told Brody to keep fighting, said he was proud.
A month later, Brody was still stuck at Egleston Hospital in Atlanta when Lawrence decided to pay the boy a visit. He’d been home in Georgia for the July 4 holiday, and he’d driven to Atlanta with his mother and sister. Lawrence spent a few hours there, snapped photos, said how proud he was of Brody’s work in rehab and knelt down by Brody’s bed and prayed with him.
“In a time when Brody was in the hospital and going through hell, for Trevor to take that time, as a parent, that’s a huge thing,” Danny says.
Brody was released from the hospital on July 22, 51 days after he arrived. He’d started walking again and had the use of his right arm. His laugh remained infectious, Courtney says.
“And,” Courtney adds, “he tells all his friends when they visit that Trevor Lawrence came to see him. They all have to know that.”
Brody received a new heart on July 28.
LAWRENCE SPENT THE final week of July in Daytona Beach, Florida, at a massive church retreat that serves upward of 3,000 kids. He volunteered to be a room leader, which put him in charge of four boys who, by rule, had to remain within 100 feet of him at all times. It’s chaos even for the mentors who aren’t nationally renowned quarterbacks.
Not surprisingly, there were requests for photos and autographs. Lawrence obliged but with one caveat. There was a kid he had been paired with, a smaller boy, hardly an athlete, who had to sign every autograph and pose for every photo.
“He might’ve taken 500 pictures that week,” says Rencher, who attended the retreat too, “and in every one, his kid is with him.”
A year earlier, Lawrence was at the same retreat, this time as a student, sharing a hotel room with Rencher and three high schoolers. They all got to talking, asking big questions about their faith.
“We were just asking each other about next steps,” Rencher says.
In a month, Lawrence would throw his first college touchdown. In two months, he’d make his first start. In less than six months, he’d win a national championship and become the most heralded quarterback in the country.
But at this moment, he didn’t know any of that. At this moment, Lawrence was at rock bottom.
The pressure to meet expectations felt enormous. In the fishbowl of Clemson, there was nowhere to hide from the attention. He was battling a beloved senior for the starting QB job. He’d grown up in a religious home, but he’d stopped attending church regularly. He’d temporarily split up with Mowry.
“I don’t think he’d ever really been challenged before,” says Lian, Lawrence’s pastor. “He found himself needing some context in his life.”
Lawrence was desperate to tether himself to something steady before the wave of fame swept him away.
“That was a turning moment,” Mowry says, “just realizing he wasn’t the man he wanted to be.”
Lawrence was quiet as his roommates talked about the future, but after a moment, a light flashed across his face.
“I think I need to get baptized,” he told the room.
So a month later, a week before Clemson’s first game, Lawrence invited his family and a few teammates to church. After services, Lian escorted the group to a back room, a place where they could find some privacy. Then Lawrence, in designer jeans and a black shirt that clung to his frame, climbed into a pool and was baptized.
Paul Gutierrez contributed reporting.
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