Freshman DE Lawson emerges for Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. -- Coming out of high school, Carl Lawson didn’t know Robert Nkemdiche personally, but he was impressed when he watched his highlight tape.

“I always go around and watch different people’s film,” Lawson said. “I really liked his film, and he’s a great player.”

The two were always grouped in the same circles. They were both talented defensive ends coming out of the state of Georgia. They both committed to SEC schools. In the 2013 ESPN 300 recruiting rankings, Nkemdiche was the top-ranked player overall, and Lawson was No. 2.

“I didn’t really want to pay attention to it,” Lawson said of the rankings. “There’s competition for me against any defensive end because I want to one day work to be the best, but I’ve got a long way to go.”

On Saturday, Lawson had his chance to show he was the better prospect of the two when Auburn hosted No. 24 Ole Miss.

Early in the season, all the talk was on the Rebels’ freshman phenom and how dominant he had been through the first four games. Saturday’s game, however, belonged to Lawson. The Auburn star finished with six tackles, 3.5 for loss, with two sacks. Nkemdiche, meanwhile, had four tackles but none for loss.

“The last few weeks [Lawson] has been improving,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He just turned loose and played his best game. It was a very complete game -- not just rushing the passer, but (against) the run. If he keeps improving, he has a chance to be a really good player.”

Lawson originally committed to Auburn in March of 2012 when Gene Chizik was still coach. When Chizik was fired, Lawson began to look around at other schools, but Malzahn and his staff convinced him to stick to his original commitment. As a senior, Lawson had 44 tackles for loss and 27 sacks.

As expected, the expectations were high for the Peach State star when he arrived on campus over the summer. Physically, he was dominant -- even as a freshman -- but mentally, he still had work to do.

“When we recruited him, we felt like his motor was really something else,” Malzahn said. “He plays extremely hard. College football is a different game than high school, and it took him a couple of weeks to get everything down.”

Through the first four games, Lawson was rotating in at defensive end, and though he had his moments, he easily played his best game of his career against Ole Miss. He lived up to the hype and showed the raw talent that everybody had been raving about. The scary part is he's just beginning to tap into his potential.

“That guy is going to be a mammoth player by the time he leaves here,” defensive tackle Nosa Eguae said. “He’s just continuing to get better every single week. He’s like a sponge, he just soaks in everything. He asks a lot of questions. He just wants to be the best player he can be.”

Added teammate Gabe Wright: “Carl’s a man-child. There was nothing holding him back physically, it was just maybe a little bit mental. Carl’s a remarkable player. I’m sure the Auburn family and the media knows that now. He’s been doing that at practice consecutive days, and I’m proud of him. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

After the game, Lawson was elated, but he knows he still has more work to do if he wants to be the best defensive end in college football. Saturday was just a start.

“It was a very good night,” Lawson said. “It means a lot, but I know there’s a lot of things I need to go fix and get ready for practice tomorrow.”