On Wednesday, Auburn University head coach Gus Malzahn sent at least three coaches on two separate occasions to Milton High School (GA) to talk to Carl Lawson, Breitbart Sports' top-rated high school recruit. It is clear that other schools see Lawson as their future cornerstone on defense as well.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart Sports, Lawson was clear about his goals, saying, “I want to break the freshman sack record.”
But, just as I began to expect in my conversation with Lawson, he followed it up by saying, “I don’t even know if I will start, I will have to keep working hard every day to achieve those goals.”
In fact, when Lawson was told that he earned the top spot in the inaugural Breitbart 25, Lawson said, “I’m very appreciative. Honestly though, rankings don’t mean too much since I haven’t proven anything yet. I’m very honored though.”
It is this combination of confidence and humility that has coaches from programs such as Auburn, North Carolina, Tennessee, Clemson, and Ole Miss vying for Lawson's talents.
Lawton can be as good as he wants to be
Milton High School (GA) head football coach Howie DeCristofaro isn’t easily impressed. He’s coached football for twenty-nine years, and he’s coached some of the nation’s best, sending numerous players to play Division 1 ball and then on to the NFL.
However, he has been impressed with Carl Lawson, the #1 player in the Class of 2013 according to Breitbart Sports, since the moment he first saw him.
“I saw Carl walking down the hill to our football field and was immediately impressed,” DeCristofaro told Breitbart Sports.
DeCristofaro was stunned to learn that Lawson wasn’t yet enrolled at Milton and was only a junior. The eager coach made sure Lawson was registered for classes days later.
Lawson was physically impressive in initial drills, but DeCristofaro, who has seen many kids who were athletic enough to be great yet lacked the physical toughness to excel in football, reserved judgment until Lawson put on pads.
Lawson did not disappoint.
“I knew from the first day he put on pads, that he could be as good as he wanted to be, and he’s worked as hard as he can since then," DeCristofaro said.
That theme of hard work came up repeatedly over our conversation. When asked what Lawson’s greatest strength as a player is, DeCristofaro said simply, “the kid works his butt off.”
He went on to say that, “Carl works harder than any player I’ve ever coached. He’s missed only one day of workouts in two years. He’ll call me over the weekend to discuss the next team we’re playing and how they look on film, what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
It is rare that such an elite player is so clearly defined by work ethic. Often, such elite players rely on talent and have to learn discipline when they reach the next level and realize physical tools alone are not enough to dominate.
For Carl Lawson, however, his competition isn’t high school players. He is competing against the all-time greats, and his desire to match or surpass their athletic accomplishments fuels his relentless drive.
Lawson mentions players like Derrick Thomas, Dwight Freeney, Reggie White, and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney as players he wants to surpass.
“I always want to compete, and I’m trying to compete against guys that are the best,” Lawson told Breitbart Sports. “I want to compete against the best, and I want to be better than them, God willing.”
When a typical high school player mentions catching the greatest that have ever played the game, it is hard not to scoff, regardless of how good they are. When listening to Carl Lawson, though, it’s almost impossible not to believe that one day his name will be mentioned in the same breath as defensive greats such as Derrick Thomas and Reggie White.
Unlike most his age, phrases like “if God’s willing,” “if it’s in God’s plan,” and “I haven’t even proved anything yet,” are genuine parts of his vocabulary. When Lawson says he dreams big and plays big, it is not braggadocio or simply a high schooler running his mouth. These are goals he has worked toward humbly and diligently every day.
The attention he has received hasn’t gone to Lawson’s head; rather, it is just fueling him to work harder.
And it is this drive that draws others to him.
“He’s a quiet leader. He doesn’t say too much, but he does everything that’s asked of him. People are willing to follow him. He’s always there, he never misses a rep, he’s sharing in the work habits of his teammates, and leading by example,” says DeCristofaro.
His coach even cited an example of Carl’s more compact teammate, Ole Miss commit, running back Peyton Barber, who probably is stronger on certain lifts like cleans, which are harder for those with a longer frame like Lawson. According to his coach, Lawson refuses to lose and is constantly competing with his teammate.
What’s clear to me after watching film on Lawson and then speaking with him and his coach are two things. First, the Milton High School football program must be in good hands if this is the kind of player and the kind of person they produce. It was clear that DeCristofaro is exactly the kind of coach you want your son to play for, and Carl Lawson is exactly the kind of ambassador you want for your program.
The second thing that jumped out is the world of hurt that Gus Malzahn and the Auburn program will be in if they let this young man, a long-time Auburn commit who is now considering other options due to a terrible season and new coaching staff, slip through their fingers. He’s a perfect fit for their defense, a dynamic athlete who could be a game changer, and the kind of young man who can help change the culture of a program that just went 3-9.
According to DeCristofaro, Carl and his father have established a set of criteria by which they are closely evaluating each school such as fit, ability to reach the NFL, stability of the program, connection with the coaching staff, etc.
Projecting where Lawson will ultimately sign is difficult. Regarding recruiting, his coach said that “he’s fed up with the whole thing,” and Lawson himself describes the process as “very stressful, but part of God’s plan and necessary.”
Observing his recruitment, I’ve felt that Lawson wanted to be at Auburn, and that he’s willing to give Auburn numerous opportunities to prove themselves to him. While I’d give the edge to the school he’s been committed to since Spring 2012, Lawson sounds very uncertain, and he could end up at a variety of destinations. He will announce his final intentions at a small, intimate, family setting on Signing Day
In evaluating Lawson on film and in talking with him, it is difficult to see anything that will keep this young man from being extremely successful. The only "weakness" his coach, DeCristofaro, identified was Lawson’s 6’3” stature, but, while may not be the ideal height, Lawson’s height certainly isn’t enough of a factor to really hinder his game, and, having just turned seventeen five months ago, Lawson may still have some room for growth.
Regardless, Coach DeCristofaro knows what type of player Lawson's school of choice will be getting. In addition to signing an incredible talent, DeCristofaro says “whoever gets Carl Lawson will get a young man with a great deal of character and integrity who will do whatever he tells them he’s going to do.”
That’s the kind of player any coach would want to build their program around, and whichever school gets Lawson on February 6th, they will be signing a cornerstone player, and one who, if he has his way, will be talked about years from now as one of the all-time greats.