Coaches from Carl Lawson’s past and present describe the defensive lineman as a special player.
Milton athletic director Gary Sylvestri, who also serves as an assistant with the football program, watched Lawson sack opposing quarterbacks more than 40 times.
The defensive lineman’s early resume gave Sylvestri the confidence to label Lawson as a player with an “it factor,” a description he reserves for elite talents.
Lawson has earned similar praise on the Plains.
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Last year, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn often bundled complimentary assessments of Lawson’s play with updates on the defensive lineman’s health.
“He's an impact player and just his presence, I think everybody can see it, it just changes the on the field,” Malzahn said.
Injuries have hampered Lawson’s ability to show off the “it factor” his coaches describe.
Lawson missed nearly two months of his redshirt sophomore season with a cracked hip. It was the second serious injury in as many years for the Georgia native who tore his ACL following a breakout freshman campaign.
During a session with reporters last week, the defensive lineman discussed the hip injury he suffered in the season-opener against Louisville at length for the first time.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Lawson said. “It was like the fifth play and I got pulled down and I heard something crack and I immediately was like ‘what is that?’ and I was trying to figure out what it was. Adrenaline was going so I was just gimping around on the field so I didn’t know what had happened until they told me.”
The ominous noise of his hip cracking wasn’t enough to get Lawson out of the lineup. He assisted on four tackles and made three plays behind the line of scrimmage before finally exiting the game.
“I sat out for a whole year, I wasn’t coming out until I couldn’t play no more,” Lawson said. “I really wanted to play.”
The injury forced Lawson to miss Auburn’s next six games. He returned to the lineup in an emotional homecoming of sorts against Ole Miss at the end of October for his first game at Jordan-Hare Stadium since the 2013 Iron Bowl.
He finished the season with 17 tackles (five solo), three for a loss and 11 quarterbacks hits.
For Lawson, the season was another wasted opportunity.
“I was tired pretty much all of last season,” Lawson said. “I was on crutches for a month so the muscles were really tight. It sucked. I just wanted to come back to play for my team. It was healthy enough to come back and play but I was never 100 percent. Two weeks after the bowl game, I was starting to feel like myself so that felt good.”
As the 6-foot-2, 257-pounder tells it, missing a significant portion of time for a second straight season helped him determine to come back to Auburn instead of declaring for the NFL draft.
“I need to get better as a football player, that's pretty much it,” Lawson said. “And I've got a lot to prove, a lot to prove to myself, nobody else. I still have a lot of stuff I want to accomplish. That's pretty much it. I just need to become a better football player.”
Lawson has set a number of personal goals — learning Auburn’s new defense, working on his hand placement, getting in better shape — but is mainly focused on getting the Tigers back on top by being a leader on the field and in the locker room.
“As you can see, all good teams have leadership,” Lawson said. “That’s what you need. It’s a main focus for me trying to become a leader, especially in my redshirt junior season, and the other guys. The more leaders you have, the more champions you have, the better team you have.”
With a pair of turbulent seasons behind him, Lawson is grateful for the opportunity to be back in burnt orange and navy blue whether its for one more play or a full season’s worth.
“Every chance, since I hurt my knee, every chance that I get to play with my teammates is an exciting experience,” Lawson said. “You just got to take the most of what you’re given.”