Clemson Celebration Football (copy2)

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (right) led the Tigers to their second national championship in three years last season, beating Alabama, 44-16. AP/Richard Shiro

CLEMSON -- Shortly after 8 a.m. on July 16, a sophomore with long, blonde locks strolled into Clemson's Allen N. Reeves Football Complex, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, ready for breakfast with his teammates. A building employee seated at the edge of the dining facility greeted him with a smile:

"Hey, Trevor!"

Trevor Lawrence in synonymous with college football much in the same way Duke forward Zion Williamson was with college basketball last season. Fresh off a king-making performance in the College Football Playoff, Clemson's teenaged quarterback enters this season steeped with Heisman Trophy and national championship expectations.

But around Clemson, in the calm before his sophomore season, he's "Trevor," a 19-year-old with room to grow. He's the entrenched starter at the sport's most celebrated position, yes, but he also is far from a finished product.

One area in which head coach Dabo Swinney wants to see Lawrence grow this season?


"This time last year, he was trying to get in line and go win a job," Swinney said. "Now, we need him to be a leader."

Lawrence entered fall camp last season as a hyped recruit but with a clear obstacle to playing time: Quarterback Kelly Bryant, a senior with something to prove. Soon Lawrence overtook Bryant — who later transferred to Missouri — and helped the Tigers to their second national title in three seasons, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-16 win over Alabama in the championship game. 

Now, without the veterans of last season's defensive line in the locker room, the onus of leadership falls more on Lawrence.

The Cartersville, Ga., native seems up for the task, at least so far. Last week, after Clemson offensive lineman John Simpson said Notre Dame — not Alabama — was the best team Clemson played last season, ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum ripped into Simpson.

"That is easily one of the stupidest comments I have ever heard," Finebaum said. "Clemson just doesn't know how to win yet."

Clemson's John Simpson, Tanner Muse respond to Alabama shade, as does Nikki Haley

Lawrence saw Finebaum's response on Twitter and joined the conversation. The amateur responded with one word: "Unprofessional."

Members of Generation Z traffic in social media shade, and to that end, Lawrence's tweet to Finebaum — before it was deleted — sent a statement, and further cemented the quarterback as Clemson's face.

Lawrence's words are only relevant, of course, because of how he performed on the field as a freshman. He finished last season with 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns, completing 259 of 397 passes while only throwing four interceptions.

The exclamation point was the Alabama game, and soon Lawrence was providing fodder for hot take artists: Is he the greatest quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck?

Since Peyton Manning?


Lawrence won't be eligible for the NFL until after his junior season, meaning he has plenty of time to prove prognosticators right — or wrong. Key to Lawrence's development, Swinney said, will be his ground game.

"I want to see him make more plays with his legs, and I don't mean breaking long runs. I mean, extending some plays," Swinney said. "When he can buy some time and he almost gets some scramble situations, he's dangerous."

Swinney noted that last season Lawrence tended to sometimes hang in the pocket for too long instead of running.

"Making some more plays with his legs, both by extending the play, and creating passing lanes," Swinney said. "And also, just taking five yards and get down. 

"He's so confident in his ability to make whatever throw, and he's confident in his guys, but sometimes it's like, let's make it third and five, instead of third and 10."

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One player Lawrence will rely on for protection this season is Simpson, who was named to the All-ACC Preseason Team on Tuesday. Many expressed disappointment that it was Simpson, not Lawrence, who represented Clemson at ACC Media Days last week. 

Lawrence was there, even if only spiritually. As Simpson made the rounds, fielding questions from reporters, a long, blond wig sat atop his head.

"Got to represent," Simpson said. "For him."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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