With nine starters gone from Clemson's top-ranked defense, who will rise to become a star? Look no further than defensive end Shaq Lawson.
Every college football season brings a lot of roster turnover. To get you ready for the 2015 campaign, SI.com presents the Off-season Spotlight, a weekly feature on a player whose name you’ll want to know by the fall. Last week, we focused on Boise State redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley. This week, we shift our attention to Clemson junior defensive end Shaq Lawson.
Why is he important?
Clemson is looking for playmakers to step up on defense in 2015, and Lawson should lead that charge. The Tigers lose a whopping nine starters from last year’s unit, which led the nation in total defense (4.03 yards per play) as well as 10 other defensive categories. All-America defensive end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett are two of the biggest departures. This season Lawson, alongside tackle D.J. Reader, should be a leader for the Tigers’ new-look defense under coordinator Brent Venables.
What has he already done?
Lawson made a name for himself backing up Beasley during his first two seasons on campus. He kicked off his Clemson career by earning Freshman All-America honors in 2013 when he compiled 35 tackles, including 10 for loss, and four sacks. That sack total tied William “The Refrigerator” Perry (1981) and Ricky Sapp (2006) for the most by a Clemson freshman.
Lawson followed up his inaugural campaign by recording 44 tackles with 11 for loss and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2014. Prior to Lawson, only one player in program history (Anthony Simmons, 1995-96) had notched at least 10 tackles for loss in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. In a 40-6 win over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29, Lawson made four tackles, forced a fumble and blocked an extra point.
How did he look this spring?
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney noted on several occasions that his defense was ahead of his offense in spring scrimmages, and Lawson and the defensive line were a big reason why. In the Tigers’ first scrimmage on March 25, Lawson had three sacks. Swinney noted the improvement of his defensive line during Clemson’s next scrimmage, as well.
“We have not been able to block D.J. Reader,” Swinney said in April. “I really like his attitude this spring. Of course, we say the same thing about Shaq Lawson every day.”
Off the field, Lawson focused on shedding weight this spring. According to TigerNet.com, the junior went from 280 pounds to 270 and cut his body fat to 17 percent, down from 20 percent. He has become accustomed to comparisons to Beasley, who went eighth overall to the Atlanta Falcons in the 2015 NFL draft, but Lawson wants to create his own legacy in Death Valley.
“I’m just going to make the most of my time this year and make the most of my opportunities,” Lawson said this spring. “I don’t want to be compared to Vic. Vic was a great player, I just want to be my own player. I just want to be my own name, Shaq Lawson.”
Anything else you should know?
After originally signing with Clemson in 2012, Lawson failed to qualify academically for his freshman season. He spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy during the ’12 season and eventually arrived at Clemson as the top-ranked prep school prospect in the country.
Lawson also comes from a talented line of former Clemson players from D.W. Daniel High in Central, S.C. Former Tigers wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins are D.W. Daniel graduates. Both Hopkins and Jenkins reached the NFL, and Lawson hopes to be the next Central native to make it big.
I'm coming for everything they said I couldn't have .— Shaq Lawson (@Shaq_Lawson90) July 3, 2015
Show the highlights!
Lawson was a beast during his high school career at D.W. Daniel High, where he compiled 99 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and nine sacks as a senior in 2011. He was also named the Defensive MVP of both the North/South All-Star Game and the Offense/Defense All-American Bowl.