Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence flies under the radar, again, as the face of college football

NEW ORLEANS -- At precisely 8:30 a.m. New Orleans time, Country Thor Jesus, he of the politely pleasant baritone Tennessee/Georgia drawl, thunderous right arm, flowing blond hair and an ever-growing following of devotees, settled into his seat behind a microphone and below a giant LED-powered sign that read "TREVOR LAWRENCE QUARTERBACK."

"How's it going, y'all?" the 20-year-old Clemson star said with a smile as he ran his hands through his hair, took a deep breath and looked over the cameras and microphones pointed his way. "Here we go again."

It was one year ago, in the 2019 College Football Playoff title game, when Trevor Lawrence and his locks took their place in the national sports consciousness. The buildup to that contest seemed to be all about Alabama and Tua Tagovailoa and the win that would cement their "greatest ever" status on the eve of college football's 150th anniversary celebration. Lawrence spent his pre-CFP media day surrounded by a relatively small gathering of reporters, fielding more questions about Tua and the Tide than he did about himself and his Clemson Tigers teammates.

Then they dismantled Alabama 44-16 and Lawrence was immediately praised as the future of the sport, splashed across every preseason magazine and at the top of every early list of Heisman Trophy favorites.

So, naturally, Lawrence's media day experience Saturday was completely different from last year's, right? You know, now that he's the face of college football, the defending national champion, offensive MVP of that game, national freshman of the year and recipient of a list of other awards and accolades, not to mention his perfect 25-0 record as a starter -- and did we mention his hair?!

"Trevor, what do you think of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow?"

"Trevor, are you amazed at how good LSU looks on film?"

"Trevor, talk about how much you appreciate Tua Tagovailoa as he leaves college for the NFL."

As he walked off the field in Santa Clara, California, one year ago, Lawrence was proclaimed the biggest star in college football, all at once the future and the face of the sport. In the 12 months since, he has won 14 games, including an ACC championship and a gutsy CFP semifinal over Ohio State, and also thrown for more than 3,400 yards and 36 touchdowns while also rushing for 514 yards and another eight TDs. He led Clemson to its first-ever preseason No. 1 ranking, its fifth straight CFP appearance and to the brink of its third national title in four years.

But he didn't win the Heisman -- Burrow did. Lawrence wasn't even a finalist, finishing seventh in the voting, with three first-place votes to Burrow's 841. Clemson didn't finish the regular season ranked first. LSU did. Clemson was the No. 3 seed. And by no fault of his own, Lawrence's ACC schedule failed to keep him in the spotlight from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. LSU's calendar of high-profile opponents did the opposite for Burrow.

It was an incredible season for Lawrence, just not the year many had predicted. As unfair as it might be, the cost of high expectations sometimes means settling for second billing when one's highlights don't quite match the hype.

So, there Lawrence was on Saturday morning, stuck squarely in the middle of "Groundhog Day," even if he is too young to understand the reference. He didn't even have the largest media following among the Clemson players. That belonged to running back Travis Etienne, the Jennings, Louisiana, native viewed by many LSU fans as the one who got away.

To his credit, Lawrence genuinely could not have cared less about it all. 'Twas merely a small inconvenience to endure as long as Monday night repeats itself, too.

"Trevor, how impressed are you with Joe Burrow?"

"Trevor, is LSU one the best teams you've ever seen?"

"Trevor, I know it's been a year, but is it still hard for you to believe how bad y'all beat Alabama?"

"Yeah, look at him over there. He's got it stuck on repeat, doesn't he?" observed Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, craning his neck to see through the crowd on the floor of Xavier University of Louisiana's Convocation Center, through the other offensive players to the QB's podium, surrounded by what was again a relatively small group of media members. "But he's going to answer them all, no matter how good or bad of a question it is, and no matter how much he gets the same ones over and over again. Look at him. He just wants to get to today's practice, doesn't he? But he knows what he has to do. This isn't his first rodeo."

"Heck," interjected co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, recently named the new head coach at USF, "this isn't his first rodeo this month!"

"Yeah, I'm ready," Lawrence confirmed a few minutes later, immediately smiling at the first mention of the final on-field CFP practice, scheduled for that afternoon. He reminded that there had been two media days prior to the ACC championship, CFP semifinals and Monday night's title game. "I'm ready to practice, but to get to the game, honestly. This isn't like a bowl week experience. It's more condensed. So, we're ready to get on with our prep and get on out there and play."

For an hour, Lawrence fielded what boiled down to a dirty dozen of questions, half about LSU and half about being back in the playoff.

To recap:

  • He loves Burrow, but added, "I've only really talked to him once, at the Manning Passing Academy."

  • He loves Burrow's story and "the road he took to get here."

  • LSU's defense is "way better than the stats might say" with "all of that NFL talent."

  • Playing LSU in New Orleans is "definitely more road game than neutral site."

  • He is expecting a "fourth-quarter game, down to the wire."

  • Clemson is good because "we prepare the right way" and head coach Dabo Swinney "created a culture of belief."

If there had been a "culture of belief" or "the road he took to get here" drinking game, then everyone around Lawrence would have been passed out by the half-hour mark. But not Lawrence. He doesn't drink. Though as his Q&A session hit the homestretch, he looked as though he could have used one.

He openly sighed at least three times. There were also three extremely awkward moments of silence, the player and the media staring at one another, each waiting on the other to come up with a new topic of conversation. What was it that finally ended each pregnant pause? A new reporter, having just walked up, inevitably and unknowingly asking something from the jukebox of same old selections.

"Trevor, what's it going to be like facing a quarterback as talented as Joe Burrow?"

"The most-asked question has been how much our experience helps us," Lawrence said. "It's kind of a loaded question in some ways. I mean, yeah, it does. But in some ways when we get onto the field it doesn't really matter."

And Joe Burrow, how much you like Joe Burrow.

"Yeah, obviously," he replied with a chuckle. "He's really good. It's hard to put into words what he's done and how special he's been."

Hard as it might be, that didn't stop people asking Lawrence to put it into words. And he did over and over again, and never without a smile, right up until the announcement finally went out over the arena public address system at 9:30 a.m. that media day for Clemson was over and the team was to report to the bus to -- finally! -- leave to eat, watch film and hit the practice field.

Lawrence clapped his hands, nodded his head in relief and began to descend from his podium. As he did, a TV reporter ran up, breathlessly hauling a camera on his shoulder and pointing a microphone into the quarterback's face.

"Trevor, one more question, really quick?"

He stopped and turned around, flipping his hair to greet the reporter with a smile.

"Sure, but just one," he responded. "They're calling me."

"Trevor Lawrence, what do you think of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow?"