Like most people in Cartersville, Michelle Parker loves her Georgia Bulldogs. When her shift is over at Capri Restaurant on Saturdays, she makes her way home where she and her family huddle up to the television to watch the Bulldogs.
However, in the last three football seasons, Parker has changed her television viewing on Saturday afternoons. She still watches her Dawgs play, but she also flipped over to the Clemson games, too.
“I have to see how is doing. He one of us. He is from here,” she says proudly.
Parker, of course, is talking about Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence grew up in Cartersville, a small Georgia town located about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta. The town of almost 20,000 people has a bustling downtown full of shops, diners and restaurants that give it that Americano feel.
Train tracks run through the center of town, which are still as active as they were a hundred years ago. The old train depot sits in the center of town, where its hosts Music by the Tracks at the Friendship Plaza once a month.
Just across the street from the plaza is Young Brothers Pharmacy, a staple in the town since 1881. The Etowah River, which flows south of downtown, brings wildlife enthusiasts into town, but like any small town in the South, football is the center of conversations.
The Georgia Bulldogs and the SEC is marked all around. There is the occasional Atlanta Braves or Atlanta Falcons sign here or there, but make no mistake, the Bulldogs are the fans’ favorite in these parts. However, at Capri you will find an orange and purple picture frame where a newspaper article about Clemson’s star quarterback is housed just to the left of the counter as you sit down to get a bite to eat.
“We are proud of him,” Parker says. “We all follow what he is doing over at Clemson.”
Lawrence is as proud of his hometown as it is of him. He gushes at the opportunity to talk about Cartersville, which has helped shape who he is today.
“Clemson and Cartersville are really similar, I think, as far as just good people who love football. It is kind of what brings people together,” he said.
Maybe it’s the pancakes
Football is king in Cartersville, especially when it comes to the Hurricanes. The stands are packed every Friday night during the fall to cheer on their team.
Capri Restaurant extends its hours on days in which the Hurricanes have home games, opening its doors from 4:30-8:30 p.m. The small diner, which can sit seven people at the counter and has three booths, is usually open from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and then to 6 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.
Capri is located right across from the high school. During the week, students will come in for breakfast prior to class, usually to grab something on the go.
Lawrence, who is expected to be picked by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first overall pick in tonight’s NFL Draft, occasionally would come in during the school year during his time at Cartersville, but during the summer months he was always a frequent visitor.
“He loves pancakes,” Samantha Swaim says. “He always gets an order of pancakes and scrambled eggs with cheese.”
Lawrence and a few of his teammates frequently crossed Church Street and visited Capri after morning workouts during the summer months.
“Yeah,” Lawrence chuckled. “I love their pancakes. That is my go-to, along with the scrambled eggs.”
It is doubtful the pancakes had anything to do with Lawrence’s success, but the Hurricanes posted a 52-2 record in his four years there, including a 41-game winning streak. They won back-to-back state championships for the first time in 2015 and 2016.
Besides winning games, Lawrence also set many Georgia state records, breaking Deshaun Watson’s record for career passing yards (13,908) and touchdowns (161).
“He lets his play do his talking,” Cartersville’s head coach Conor Foster said. “But he is a fiery competitor and a great leader without being a rah-rah guy, sort of speak.”
Foster, who was Cartersville’s defensive coordinator when Lawrence was there, knows all too well how competitive the former Hurricane is.
“We had our share of victories against him, but probably not as many as he stuck it to us on the defense,” he said smiling.
When Foster first got to Cartersville as defensive coordinator under former head coach Joey King, they wanted to establish a culture of being tough and having a competitive environment. King, the offensive coordinator as well, and Foster had a lot of banter between them and they had their players really get after each other.
At the time, Lawrence was just a rising freshman, and was the target of lot of Foster’s attention.
“The thing that I loved about him was that he embraced the competitive culture. He embraced the banter, the talk. He was in the middle of it always,” the Cartersville coach recalled. “He did not necessarily say a whole lot, but he would throw a dime and then turn around and give you a look and let you know, ‘That was for you Coach.’
“Our guys, which we did not get to intercept the ball very much, but whenever we got our chance to get our hands on the football, our guys on defense were going to let him know. It was always fun in nature, but you could tell it got under his skin. He used to tell me, his goal in practice was to make me get mad and throw my hat down. It was very playful, but at the same time that is what I loved the most about him. You knew you were going to get a warrior day in and day out.”
It’s not always about football
As competitive as Lawrence is, and as much success he has had, both in high school and college, his life in not consumed by the game. There are things outside of football that interest him, such as his Christian faith.
“He is such a good kid. He is a good person,” Cartersville quarterbacks coach Michael Bail said. “He has a lot of good qualities and good values and I enjoy talking to him. That is probably the part about him being at Clemson that I miss the most. I don’t get to have the conversations with him that he and I used to talk about outside of football.”
Bail still chats with Lawrence, but usually its reserved for Sunday evenings when he is on his way home from coaches’ meetings. They texted mostly these days and like he said the conversations are not really about football.
“When he left here and went to Clemson, I turned him over to Brandon Streeter,” Bail said. “He does not come home and throw with me. We don’t talk about that. He belongs to Brandon and we talked about that before he left for Clemson. ‘You are not going to come home and work with me. You belong to him now.’
“Now, I am just a fan. I make sure I talk to him about school. We talk about his academics and how he is handling things and that kind of stuff. I don’t talk to him about football.”
Bail and Lawrence built their connection because Bail coaches just the quarterbacks. He generally coaches just a few guys at a time. He does not have 15 or so guys in a position group that he has to mentor all the time.
“We sometimes can be a little closer or a little tighter,” he said. “We have more time to talk about issues other than coaching him and doing this. That is one thing we do a good job here. Our coaching staff is always checking on the kids about their life, their academics, their family. We know if their mom is sick. We are constantly pouring into them, not just as football coaches, but as human beings that care about each other.
“Trevor and I would go to dinner some and would not talk about football. We would talk about everything. He has made some big strides in his life in the last five years that have nothing to do with football. I just enjoy listening to him. One of my favorite things he has said is when he came out and said he is not defined by football and that he is not going to be judged by how good of a football player I am. That is just so refreshing to see somebody like that, especially in this world today. ‘This is what I do. It is not who I am.’ It is really nice.”
Lawrence says he is close with Bail because he worked with him every day since he was in the eighth grade. They got to known each other outside of football and he got to know his family.
“We still have that relationship and he is a great guy,” the Clemson quarterback said. “He took me in, and he taught me a lot.”
As Bail said, the relationship between him and Lawrence now goes deeper than football.
“He tries to keep football separated in our relationship. It came from football, but he knows now that I am at Clemson and we have coaches and they are doing their job and he does not need to be another guy adding onto that. I think he does a really good job of that.
“When we talk, it is not necessarily about football. We can just talk and share what we are thinking.”
It is a relationship Bail and Lawrence value, especially in this day and age when so much pressure is being put on athletes to perform at the highest of levels.
“We have so many kids that come through, not only here, but everywhere else that they come in as freshman and they make a name for themselves,” Bail said. “They go to camp, they go to 7-on-7s, they go to private instructors, they go to this, they do that and then all of a sudden, your plan was to go here, but it did not work out for you. ‘What are you going to do now?’ You have not thought about anything else because we told you if you will do this and this and this and this, then the football life will work for you. But in reality, it is not going to work for everybody.
“I think for Trevor, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but if football was over for him tomorrow, he has a plan. There would be something else he would go excel at and go do. Outside of athletics. For him to be grounded in that aspect, I think is really rare because a lot of times these kids don’t have anything to fall back on because they put so much stock in this and then it is not there anymore.”