CLEMSON, S.C. -- Dabo Swinney had seen the film, and Trevor Lawrence's talent was obvious. You didn't need to know much football to see the kid was just better than everyone else on the field. Swinney had talked to his assistants, too. Brandon Streeter had been Lawrence's primary recruiter, and Streeter raved about the QB's football smarts. And Swinney had chatted with Lawrence about his family and his goals and his commitment to Clemson and all the things that coaches talk about with recruits.
By January, however, the thing Swinney hadn't really done was sit down with his new QB and talk ball. By then, however, it was the apex of recruiting season, and the coaching staff was on the road, and there simply wasn't time to kick back and break down film with the new guy on campus.
Truth is, Swinney said, he probably didn't really have a deep conversation about football -- the X's and O's of it, anyway -- with Lawrence until the start of spring practice, all of which made that first moment, when Swinney recognized just what he had, all the more exciting.
"You could just tell," Swinney said of Clemson's first day of spring installations. "He was in command. He's processing. He's just way ahead of a typical freshman."
Never mind the arm strength or the understated athleticism or the California-kid looks. This is what Lawrence wants people to notice about his game. He wants to be just like the guy he grew up idolizing, the QB who was always five steps ahead of everyone else.
"My favorite player was Peyton Manning," Lawrence said. "That's why I wear 16. It was his number at Tennessee."
His parents are lifelong Volunteers fans, and while Manning was already on to the NFL by the time Trevor came along, his mom and dad still ensured he had an appreciation of the Tennessee legend. So as Lawrence's QB career began to blossom, he took what he saw from Manning -- the attention to detail, the ability to read defenses, to adjust protections -- and made those priorities in his own training.
"He was so in control of the offense, he always knew everything that was going on," Lawrence said. "He always made checks. Just a really smart player. That's what I like about him."
On Saturday, Manning's QB coach at Tennessee, David Cutcliffe, will lead Duke into Death Valley (7 p.m. ET on ESPN) in hopes of upsetting Lawrence and the Tigers. Cutcliffe said the similarities between the two QBs are obvious.
Truth be told, Cutcliffe said, Lawrence is probably much further along than Manning was at this stage. The game has changed, and QBs arrive on campus far more prepared for big-time college football than they did 20 years ago. But the raw materials, they're all there.
"What I see is unusual accuracy, unusual understanding of timing and getting the ball out of your hand," Cutcliffe said. "Trevor Lawrence has incredible arm strength, but he also knows what he's doing playing the game. And both of them are better athletes than people might think. They're just big guys, but they move very well in the pocket."
QB coach Ron Veal started working with Lawrence when he was in junior high, and he knew immediately the kid was special. He saw the arm talent and the body type, but more than anything, he saw a player who wanted desperately to know the game inside and out.
That, Veal said, is the Manning influence.
"He's a different person, man," Veal said. "He works hard at what he does. It looks like it comes easy to him, but he prepares well and he knows where he wants to go with the ball."
The irony is, Lawrence has never actually talked to Manning. He's probably the one Tennessee star the family has always wanted to meet, Lawrence's mother, Amanda, said, but it has never quite worked out.
The family has talked with Cutcliffe. They got a tour of his office the summer before Trevor's sophomore year in high school, and they were immediately taken with the Duke coach's approach.
"He's a really impressive guy," Trevor's father, Jeremy Lawrence, said about Cutcliffe. "And coaching both Manning kids, there's a lot of knowledge there."
As Trevor Lawrence shot up recruiting boards, however, it was pretty clear Duke wasn't going to be a landing spot for him, so this week represents Cutcliffe's first chance to really see the phenom in action.
The good news for the Duke coach is he knows what to expect. He has already coached Manning. Of course, the bad news is, he knows if Lawrence lives up to those comparisons, his Blue Devils are in for a long day.
Lawrence isn't the first QB to model his game after Manning, of course. Cutcliffe has seen his share of hotshot kids come through the ranks hoping to be the next Peyton Manning over the past 20 years. That, he said, is probably a good thing.
"Peyton's influence has been that young people understand playing quarterback is more than throwing the ball," Cutcliffe said. "The total package matters. The toughness and the willingness to prepare."
That's exactly what drew Lawrence to his idol, too. Not that he's looking for comparisons.
Aside from the jersey number, Lawrence isn't thumping his chest and hyping his game compared to Manning's. However, per his high school coach, Joey King, Lawrence does have a goal that means the comparisons might one day be inevitable.
"He wants to be the best that ever played that position," King said. "That's a pretty lofty goal, but I believe in it."