When you quarterback your high school football team to a 52-3 record, win two state titles, become the consensus number one recruit in America, go on to win the National College Championship as a freshman while losing just 3 games in three seasons – you are Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence’s accomplishments and stellar resume should have put beyond doubt his status as the number one overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Unfortunately, in a recently released Sports Illustrated profile, Lawrence turned more than a few heads with revelations on his mindset and attitude towards football as a professional career.
The most eye catching of which I will summarize here: Shrugging off the need to prove himself, denying the need to manufacture any external motivation or having a chip on his shoulder and citing mental health while suggesting there was more to life than football.
In what should have been a personal glimpse into the mentality of one of the greatest draft prospects ever, these unusually candid statements from the normally reserved and unassuming Lawrence instead provoked a fair amount of angst among the self-appointed guardians of football’s moral code.
Lawrence’s indifference towards the comparisons with luminaries like John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck before him was refreshing to me but troubling to many.
Enamored with the likes of Kobe’s audacity, Brady’s maniacal competitiveness or Jordan’s ruthlessness from decades past, many struggled to square Lawrence’s nonchalance with his prodigious talents and success.
Simply put, Lawrence didn’t quite fit the temperamental mold of these all-time greats and by his own admission, he never wanted to.
Though not quite the generational talent like Lawrence, I had a 17-year pro MMA career and won multiple championships. I was pretty even keeled, and many times sported the same thousand-yard stare in my fights.
In a sport that was built on visceral aggression, I re-defined what it meant to be a cerebral fighter. Fastidious in planning and methodical in execution, I rarely let emotion get the better of me – both in and outside of the cage.
I never needed to work myself up to get going. Like Lawrence, my motor was fueled by the desire to become the best athlete I could.
Competitiveness and motivation are deeply personal, but coincidentally, they manifest similarly in each of us.
Mike Ferguson – my strength and conditioning coach and just about as tough-nosed of a trainer as there ever will be – was a grizzled veteran who served several tours with the marine corps during the Vietnam War.
One time, I was 40 minutes deep into one of our absolutely brutal yet regular outdoors conditioning circuit. Coming off some box jumps, I paused, clearly labored and drawing heavy breaths.
For all his commanding presence and the testosterone filled training environment, there was no yelling from Mike. All it took was his deep baritone voice and two words, “You ok?” and I was back in motion.
I was not about to show any weakness, certainly not to Mike. However, it was not about me needing to look good in front of Mike or the guys. My inherent competitiveness and the will to always give a 100 percent made it almost a reflex response.
As internally competitive as I was, I was also known to clown around in the gym. Even though we goof off every now and then, professional fighters like myself can still step inside a cage and absolutely wreck our opponents.
At the end of the day, football is still a game. It was the sport of my youth and I grew up alongside it. By publicly acknowledging the transience of football as a professional career choice, Lawrence should be lauded for his maturity not criticized.
When studies have shown the average football career to last no more than two and a half years, and the emergence of CTE or concussion related traumas, Lawrence has his priorities straight.
The win at all costs mentality sounds fitting for athletes of Lawrence’s caliber, until you can’t take the field reliably on Sundays. Teams can change, fans can be fair weathered, but your health is all you have as an athlete.
Regrettably, the negative hoopla surrounding Lawrence’s statements seemed to have triggered NFL insiders, general managers and armchair player personnel across the interwebs.
Being anointed as the chosen one of football is no fault of Lawrence’s. He has battled and mostly surpassed outsized expectations since he was 14 years old.
Being drafted number one overall and hailed as the savior of the Jacksonville Jaguars might be a tough act, but if Lawrence is serious about being the best version of himself, then I think he will be just as he advertised.