For former LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, his selection with the No. 131 overall pick to the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round of the NFL Draft was extra sweet. That is because it came with a sense of familiarity.
In the 2018 Fiesta Bowl, which was held at the Cardinals' home facility State Farm Stadium, LSU was facing UCF (who was on a 25-game winning streak). The Tigers wound up winning 40-32 and Lawrence was named defensive MVP.
"I want to thank the Arizona Cardinals for selecting me in the fourth round," Lawrence told reporters shortly after he was drafted. "Along with (fellow fourth-round pick and Utah defensive lineman) Leki Fotu. Two big interior guys, two strong guys and those selections were for a reason. So, we're building the trenches up in Arizona.
"Personally I played my best game in my career (two sacks, four tackles for loss) in Arizona's Stadium in the Fiesta Bowl, defensive MVP. So I've had some good success there. Hell of a game and it kind of jumped us into this national championship season, so that was a big game not only for me, but for all my teammates. And it was special."
With the desert being quite a different landscape than the bayous of Louisiana, Lawrence remembers having a memorable time. Now, he gets to call it home.
"The first thing that I think about Arizona is the weather," he said. "We got a chance to practice out there all week. We got to practice outside and it felt great. Getting to kind of see mountains in Arizona was pretty interesting too and pretty cool. I like going to different parts of the area, different states in the country. So, we got a chance to go to Arizona, we had great food all week. They treated us great. The stadium was beautiful, the way it's set up and everything, so Arizona was special to me. And it's kind of crazy how I have my best game in there, enjoyed it so much. Now I get to play 10, 12 times a year in there. So, it's pretty special to go back to Phoenix and be a part of the Cardinals."
The Cardinals are getting a bonafide leader with lots of playing experience in Lawrence. He was a team captain at LSU for the last three years of his career there. That means the organization is getting a great character guy and someone who will easily assimilate into their culture.
"So special to me," Lawrence said of his leadership role. "I had to come in as a sophomore and compete to earn my starting spot. It wasn't given to me. And I think I earned the respect of the team whenever I came in, kept my mouth shut and just worked hard. People started to see that. I battled some little different injuries and everything, but I wanted my team to always know that I was going to be there every Saturday. Whenever I was out there, I felt like I was a difference-maker even if it wasn't in the stat box but as a leader. So to help bring this to Arizona, I think that they're getting a guy that wants to prove he fits and that he's ready to play and then eventually down the road step into a leadership role. We've got a great team, a great group of guys already, so excited to go in. Ready to work."
Lawrence also decided to return to school for his senior season instead of entering the 2019 NFL Draft. It clearly paid off in the form of his fourth-round draft selection, but also afforded him the opportunity to win a national championship.
"Playing in the the SEC, personally, is like a second NFL to me," Lawrence said. "People that have played there know the physicality of the game and just the week in, week out preparation that goes into it. So, coming back another year, my senior year was almost like my rookie year in the fact that I was treating it like I was a pro. Taking care of my body, taking care of my mental health and taking care of everything week in and week out because I knew I had a chance coming into this year to get drafted and go to a team."