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Freshman All-American candidate thankful for his opportunity

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On Monday, Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence experienced a slightly different practice routine than he has been accustomed to throughout his first season as a Tiger.

Dabo Swinney has made it a tradition since he became head coach eight years ago to play the song “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen at practice the Monday following a win, but for the first time in a long time, it didn’t blare over the loudspeaker in the indoor facility after Clemson’s 43-42 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The loss to Pitt marked Clemson’s first regular-season loss since 2014 and its first at home since 2013.

“We didn’t play the song ‘Another One Bites the Dust’,” Lawrence said on Tuesday when asked about the biggest difference in Clemson’s practice Monday following the loss. “But it wasn’t too much of a difference. Everybody kind of got over it. We know what we need to do to move on and play the next game. This week is Wake Forest, so that’s who we need to focus on.”

Perhaps the more important difference in practice, though, was the team’s humbled and hungry mindset as it looks to bounce back against Wake Forest on Saturday night.

“Everybody was definitely more focused, moving a little faster even though we played a lot of snaps Saturday,” Lawrence said. “I feel like the loss just woke us up a little more and made us a little bit more humble as a team.”

Against Pittsburgh, Clemson’s defense allowed 42 points, 464 yards and eight plays of 20-plus yards, including three plays of 40 or more yards.

However, Lawrence played arguably the best game of his career to this point. The 6-foot-5, 340-pounder logged six official tackles — nine according to the coaches’ film — along with a fumble recovery and two blocked place kicks.

Still, Lawrence isn’t satisfied.

“It was a good performance and all, but I probably could have done a little more,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence blocked one of Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt’s extra point attempts in the second quarter before blocking his 53-yard field goal try at the end of the first half.

It marked just the fourth time in Clemson history that a player blocked two kicks in the same game. The others to do it were Wingo Avery against The Citadel in 1954, Mitch Belton versus Maryland in 1989 and Rahim Abdullah versus Auburn in the 1998 Peach Bowl.

However, he wishes he could have added one more on Blewitt’s game winning 48-yard field goal in the final seconds.

“I definitely was close,” Lawrence said. “That was the biggest one of all, I just couldn’t get it. He got a good kick on it, got it up in the air that time. It was good on his part.”

But like Clemson, Lawrence is moving forward, focusing solely on the task ahead at Wake.

The stakes are high the rest of the way for the Tigers, who look to clinch the ACC Atlantic title this weekend and a berth in the ACC Championship game while maintaining control of their College Football Playoff aspirations.

Besides that, the game holds even more significance for Lawrence, who will play his first collegiate game in his home state of North Carolina.

Lawrence expects to have about 20 family members and friends on hand.

“I haven’t played in my home state, so it’s going to be very big,” Lawrence said. “Just a lot of friends will be there supporting and things like that, so it will be great.”

Lawrence, a former five-star recruit and first-team USA Today All-American from Wake Forest, N.C. — about an hour and 45 minutes from Wake Forest’s campus in Winston-Salem — wasted no time making an immediate impact this season, and he has been one of the best freshmen players in the nation.

Through 10 games, Lawrence has totaled 63 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He leads the team in quarterback pressures with 19, while he has also blocked two kicks, recovered two fumbles and played a key role in Clemson’s productive jumbo package on offense.

“Pretty good so far,” Lawrence said when asked how he feels about the way his freshman season has gone. “A lot of people can’t say they’re playing as a freshman or having this opportunity, so I’m just thankful for that. Just being able to have the role on this team that I have, I feel special. It feels good to me to keep fulfilling it each and every week, going out and playing my hardest and giving it all I got.”

Lawrence credited fellow defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano for helping him improve and adjust to the college game over the course of the season.

“I feel like I’ve definitely gotten smarter,” Lawrence said. “That’s what I wanted to work on the most coming into college, getting smarter, reading blocks faster and things like that. I feel like I’ve improved a lot in that sense of football and the knowledge that I have of being around the guys, Carlos, Christian and Scott, just helping me out reading blocks and things like that.”

Bursting onto the scene as a stalwart in the middle of Clemson’s defensive front, Lawrence has placed himself squarely on the freshman All-American radar. He was a midseason pick as defensive Freshman of the Year by some services.

Lawrence, though, has his mind on what he feels are more important matters as Clemson looks to finish the year strong.

“I’ve seen it a couple of times, but that’s not too much of my focus right now,” Lawrence said of the national accolades. “I’m focusing on the team, but it’s feels good to see that people are seeing my work and seeing the effort that I put out on the field.”

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