Carl Lawson paused multiple times to gather his emotions addressing the media after a 27-19 loss to Ole Miss Saturday afternoon.
It was Lawson’s second start in a year and a half, and first of his career to come at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Lawson battled back from a torn ACL last season only to injury his hip in the first half of the season opener against Louisville.
The sting of another close loss was fresh for the sophomore, but it wasn’t the driving force behind his feelings.
“It meant the world to me to get my first start at Jordan-Hare, to be on that grass, to be with my teammates,” Lawson said. “I’m blessed to be an Auburn Tiger.”
Lawson spent many nights dreaming of being healthy enough to participate in Tiger Walk, and actually suit up in uniform to be with his “family.”
“I love Auburn to my core,” Lawson said.
The Georgia native was cleared to practice earlier this week, but was a game-time decision for Saturday’s game. Fans went wild as he was announced as a starter on the video board before kickoff.
Auburn’s sell-out crowd reacted similarly anytime Lawson was near the ball, giving him a standing ovation multiple times in the first quarter when he made his first tackle, and again when he nearly sacked Chad Kelly on a third-and-long.
Lawson’s return to the lineup didn’t immediately fix all of Auburn’s defensive issues -- the Tigers gave up a season-high 558 yards -- but coach Gus Malzahn didn’t try to minimize the positive impact he had either.
“He definitely is a difference maker,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I think everyone can see that he gives us a little different edge. He’s a disrupter and he disrupted a lot of things that put a little pressure in their backfield. He even got to him some and hit their quarterback. We probably had more hits on the quarterback today than we did all year.
In the first half, Lawson hit the quarterback three times, and the man responsible for blocking him left tackle Laremy Tunsil had two false starts.
Lawson pressured Kelly on Ole Miss’ opening possession, and just missed sacking the quarterback on a third-and-nine at the Rebels’ 45-yard line.
The 6-foot-2, 257-pounder beat Tunsil around the edge easily, but Kelly ducked through Lawson’s tackle attempt.
While Lawson showed great burst off the line, and was in Kelly’s face throughout the game, he downplayed his own effectiveness.
Lawson admitted he worried about reinjuring his hip at times, calling it a little "phobia," and it prevented from playing as fast as he is capable of.
“I need to get better,” Lawson said. “I had a lot of loafs, need to get in better shape, my hands, footwork and technique, a lot of things. I’ll go back and watch the film, and get more.”
Auburn’s co-captain passionately vowed the defense would get back to work this week focused on closing out the season on a high note.
“This is a pivotal point in the season,” Lawson said. “We are going to bounce back because this is Auburn, that’s what we do. The media is going to go out and probably say some bad stuff about Auburn, but I just want everyone to know; the Auburn faithful to know -- we will bounce back.”