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Clemson's Trevor Lawrence declares for NFL Draft

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CLEMSON — Trevor Lawrence on Wednesday announced he will leave Clemson and declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Lawrence is expected to be selected No. 1 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The announcement came in the form of a social media video, in which the quarterback strolls into an empty Death Valley and takes a seat on the football field.

"Looking back on it, I hope my legacy at Clemson is that I was a great teammate and a great person," Lawrence said in the video, against a soft melody. "More than football, more than how I played each game, is how I treated people."

The news comes the day after Lawrence finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith. It also marks the official end to one of the greatest careers in Clemson football history.

Lawrence introduced himself to the national stage as a freshman, when he led Clemson past Alabama in the 2019 College Football Playoff national championship game.

He never quite reached those heights again — the Tigers lost to LSU in the 2020 national title game and to Ohio State in this season's national semifinal Sugar Bowl — but he continued to burnish his legacy on and off the field.

Lawrence finished his career with the most wins in program history for a quarterback (34). He threw for 10,098 yards, 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, in addition to winning 2020 ACC Player of the Year honors.

But it was what he accomplished off the field at Clemson that Lawrence will most cherish. In March, as much of the nation went into lockdown, Lawrence and his fiance Marissa Mowry launched a GoFundMe for COVID-19 relief.

Then, in June, as protests popped up in cities across the country in response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, Lawrence was one of the first high-profile college athletes to speak up: "There needs to be a change in the way of thinking," he wrote in a tweet.

Lawrence then played a key role in organizing a peaceful protest in Clemson that attracted about 3,000 people. 

"Recently, I've realized that the America I experience is different than the America my brothers and sisters experience," Lawrence said at the protest, dressed in all black. "I'm on the journey now of discovering how I can use my voice, platform and influence to lift others up, and stand for those who shouldn't have to stand alone." 

That journey took him into August, when he played a key role in organizing the #WeWantToPlay movement. Amid widespread reports the season would be canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, Lawrence and others pushed for the season to go on — albeit with increased input from players. He suggested the formation of a college football players' association.

"When the decisions are being made on our behalf that affect us tremendously, it would be great if we could have player voices," he said then.

Lawrence is reserved by nature. But in the era of social media, silence on sensitive issues can sometimes be taken as aloofness. And amid all of the upheaval caused by COVID-19 and the movement for racial justice, Lawrence felt compelled to speak up.

For all of his on-field heroics — and there were plenty — Lawrence might be remembered just as much for the impact he had off it. 

In his junior season, Lawrence also adopted the role of mentor. D.J. Uiagalelei, the Tigers' sensational freshman quarterback, is expected to take the baton from Lawrence in 2021.

Uiagalelei spoke often about how much he learned from Lawrence, especially when he was temporarily thrust into the starting role for two games when Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19. 

That bond is likely to continue, even as Lawrence moves on. In response to the quarterback's NFL announcement, Uiagalelei on Twitter offered high praise for his predecessor. 

"The GOAT," Uiagalelei wrote. "Plain and simple."

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 alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.