Dexter Lawrence’s career at Clemson came to a sudden stop, but the jovial 6-foot-5, 350-pound defensive tackle from Wake Forest, N.C., did not let that affect his attitude.
Due to a questionable drug test, which said the All-American had traces of Ostarine, a performance enhancing drug, in his system, the NCAA suspended Lawrence for the Tigers’ College Football Playoff run.
Lawrence, along with Clemson, insisted the star defensive tackle did nothing intentional. However, Lawrence did not allow that to bother him, he contributed the best way he could as Clemson completed its national championship run with a 28-point victory over Alabama in the 2018 National Championship Game.
“I wish I was playing, but this was the next best thing,” he said. “This was fun. I’m glad I was here for my teammates.”
Lawrence got a waiver from the NCAA that allowed him to travel with the Tigers to Santa Clara, Calif., and be on the sideline for the national championship game.
“It was a true blessing. I almost was not able to make the trip. I am just appreciative to just be here and just encourage the guys to help them keep their motors running,” he said. “They all said they did it for me. I was coaching my butt off for them, too. I lost my voice trying to give them all I had and all I could give.”
The Tigers responded by outscoring Alabama 30-0 in the last 44 minutes of the game. The Clemson defense held the Tide out of the end zone on three red-zone scoring possessions in the second half.
“It was a blessing to see them go out there and use my coaching,” Lawrence said laughing. “They took in everything I was saying, and they did not give me attitude like they do Coach (Todd) Bates. It was good to see them step up and play that role well.”
Clemson’s defensive front, led by Lawrence’s best friends Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, dominated the line of scrimmage, especially after the first quarter. After totaling 224 yards and 13 points in the opening quarter, Alabama had just 219 yards the rest of the game and scored just three points which came 42 seconds into the second quarter.
Bama had just 177 total yards in the second half, including 40 rushing yards.
“We bent, but we did not break. That is kind of what you ask for from the guys up front. We did our job up there in the trenches and gave it our all on each and every play,” Lawrence said. “You are trying to knock a 300-pound guy back all the time. It is just always a challenge and I love the way they accepted it.”
Leading up to the game, Lawrence knew the defense could dominate the Tide when it mattered most. The Tigers held Alabama to 4-of-13 on third down conversions, including 2 for their last 10 after the first quarter.
Clemson recorded two sacks and pressured Heisman Finalist Tua Tagovailoa all night.
“Credit to Alabama and this is no disrespect to them, but I just felt different the whole week of practice and how we were going to come out and play,” Lawrence said. “Just seeing the guys work and do extra stuff after practice and just grind. I just knew we were going to have a good game up front.”
Lawrence’s last game in a Clemson uniform came in the ACC Championship Game against Pittsburgh. The All-American defensive tackle, who decided to turn pro after his junior season, finished that night in Charlotte with six tackles, including a season-high 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
He finished the 2018 season with 44 tackles overall, 7.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, 1.5 sacks, 15 quarterback pressures and three passes knocked down.
As for his career, Lawrence will go down as one of Clemson’s all-time best. He had 162 tackles in his three years, starting 36 of the 40 games he played in. He had 20 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 43 quarterback pressures, five knock downed passes and a couple of blocked kicks.