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The story of Trevor Lawrence’s first QB battle

Sep 4, 2018

  • David M. HaleESPN Staff Writer

    • ACC reporter.
    • Joined ESPN in 2012.
    • Graduate of the University of Delaware.

Miller Forristall had heard all about the kid coming to take his job, but he wasn’t worried. Forristall was a junior at Cartersville High in Georgia, a tall kid with a strong arm and a bit of experience, and the new kid, Trevor Lawrence, hadn’t even wrapped up junior high.

“I was like, the kid’s in eighth grade,” Forristall said. “How good could he be?”

People around Cartersville were already buzzing about Lawrence, though, and when the kid was invited out to spring practice, four months before starting his freshman year, it quickly became obvious why.

“I saw him throw one ball, and I knew he was legit,” Forristall said.

Over the next few years, Lawrence would post a 52-2 career record as a starter at Cartersville, earn a slew of national awards, blossom into one of the top recruits in the country, and rewrite the Georgia high school record books, slashing records once set by former Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.

Funny thing is, things turned out OK for Forristall, too. He’s at Alabama now, a significant contributor to the Crimson Tide’s offense, and he and Lawrence have joked about the opportunity to face off against each other at season’s end, another Clemson-Alabama playoff battle.

Before all that though, there was a QB battle in a small Georgia town that looked an awful lot like the one still brewing at Clemson.

For most of the 2014 season, Forristall and Lawrence alternated playing time at Cartersville. Forristall started the first few games before Lawrence took over, but still, they split time. They’d become close friends, their families sharing space in the stands and the boys working together in the film room and competing on the field. There was no bad blood. In fact, the more playing time Lawrence got at QB, the more Forristall considered his options. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Forristall had the stature to play tight end, and as Lawrence continued to post gaudy stats, he could see the writing on the wall.

A week before the state playoffs that year, Forristall sat down with his head coach, Joey King.

“This can go one of two ways,” King offered.

Option 1: Forristall suddenly gets a lot better at playing quarterback and wins the job full time.

Option 2: Lawrence keeps progressing on his current path, and there’s not a chance Forristall would beat him out.

King actually made a pros and cons list on a potential switch to tight end for Forristall, and in the end, the answer was clear.

A few weeks later, Cartersville was playing Sandy Creek in the third round of the playoffs. Lawrence led a come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter, and Forristall was a star at tight end.

“I just thought, yeah, this is going to work out pretty good,” Forristall said.

Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott was thumbing through photos after Saturday’s 48-7 win over Furman, looking for some examples of good ball security to show his receivers, when he stumbled upon a picture of the celebration following Lawrence’s first college touchdown pass. The image was Lawrence, being enveloped near the sideline by Kelly Bryant. The veteran with the job on the line was the first one out to celebrate.

“That’s what we see every day on the practice field and in the meeting rooms,” Scott said.

This isn’t to suggest the relationship blossomed instantly. Bryant waited his turn for this job, and he’s not eager to give it up.

“I know I’m still the guy, even if I’m not on the field,” Bryant said.

But Bryant remembered former Clemson QB Deshaun Watson hugging him after his first touchdown, and he wanted to do the same for Lawrence.

Even that undersells the rapport, though. Lawrence said it’s played out similarly to his high school experience with Forristall. Early on, they felt each other out, but before long, he and Bryant were just two teammates, working toward the same goal.

“It’d be a big stress if the guy in front of me wasn’t taking it well,” Lawrence said. “He’s done a great job, he’s been there for me, and that really shows his character.”

No hard feelings, just a couple of heavyweights trading blows. Nothing personal.

“I’m just trying to be that big brother in that quarterback room,” Bryant said, “and be a leader as well.”

The QB dynamic at Clemson actually feels pretty comfortable for Lawrence. He has been here before. He competed against Forristall, but really, they were pals. They never measured each other, throw by throw. The coaches kept score, not the players. That’s how Lawrence sees his current situation.

“I kept playing well when I went in, and it worked out,” Lawrence said. “So I’m just going to keep doing that [at Clemson].”

Forristall made a nice transition to tight end, too. He blossomed as a senior, with Lawrence as his QB. They had an obvious rapport, and while Lawrence garnered headlines on the recruiting trail, Forristall landed a scholarship to play tight end at Alabama.

“That still blows my mind,” Forristall said. “Looking back now, it’s funny to even say out loud.”

Sure, most QB battles have a clear winner and a loser, but the way Forristall sees it, his situation worked out exactly as it was supposed to, with winners on both sides.

Whether that is repeatable at Clemson remains the big question. Scott insists there’s no timetable set for the coaches to select one QB, and it now seems entirely possible this battle could last weeks or months before anything is settled.

“The ideal scenario for us is they both play well, and we’ll figure out from there,” Scott said. “But we haven’t even talked about it.”

Perhaps Saturday’s game at Texas A&M (7 p.m. ET on ESPN) provides a real line of demarcation. A hostile environment, a talented opponent — these are the things that separate the good from the great.

Probably not, though. Lawrence is the real deal, and Forristall said he has seen how this script plays out.

“He’s not intimidated,” Forristall said.

So they’ll wait. They’ll practice and play and wait for a decision, and there’s no guarantee it’ll actually come. Maybe this is the new normal. And if it is, Lawrence and Bryant said they’re OK with that.

“I’m used to it by now,” Lawrence said. “The coaches have been straightforward with us, we’ve rotated, and it’s been good.”

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