MILTON, Ga. – He came bounding into the weight room at 6:30 a.m., sporting a black stocking cap with ESPN embroidered in red, leather jacket, white tights and shirt and black shorts.
“Carl Lawson,” he said, extending his hand.
In two years, Milton High School coach Howie DeCristofaro said, Lawson had missed just one day of the team’s lifting program. Even on this day, hours from signing his National Letter of Intent to attend Auburn, the four-star defensive end was sticking to his routine.
The 6-foot-2, 245 pounder was loose, joking with teammates through their squat and bench reps, Lawson squatting 400 pounds as players shouted, “Do it, Carl.”
For Lawson, the most difficult part was behind him.
“He told me Monday he’s so glad it’s over, he’s much more relaxed,” DeCristofaro said. “He wouldn’t answer his phone even when I called, he’d have to call me back. He got tired of answering his phone.”
Lawson had originally committed to Auburn in March. But in the wake of Gene Chizik’s firing, he reopened his recruitment — “It was just a smart thing to do,” Lawson said. – and visited Clemson and Tennessee.
After making his official visit to Auburn on Friday, Lawson called DeCristofaro and told him he was sticking with the Tigers.
“He said you can do whatever you want it,” DeCristofaro said. “If anybody calls and asks, you can go ahead and tell them.”
There would be no picking a hat from his group of finalists, no live mascot. Lawson did make his own announcement, posting on Twitter, “This will successfully end my recruitment I am an Auburn Tiger. No questions will be answered no calls will be accepted,” but he wouldn’t be adding to the pomp and circumstance of National Signing Day.
“I don’t like a lot of publicity,” Lawson said.
“That’s always been him,” added Lawson’s father, Carl Sr., who was a fullback on Georgia Tech’s 1990 national title team. “It’s just something he never liked. He just watched it on TV before and was like, ‘If I ever get to that chance, I’ll never do anything like that.’”
The stage was set. Literally.
A table covered with a tablecloth that read, “Milton High School, home of the Eagles,” and a backdrop that said “Milton Eagles” was lit by the spotlights brought in for ESPNU’s camera.
Taking up a collection of seats in the front row of the auditorium were nine of Milton’s college-bound players, a group that included seven FBS recruits in offensive linemen Cory Helms and Josh Harris (Wake Forest), wide receiver Malik Mitchell (Northern Illinois), defensive tackle Noah Allen (Army), three-star running back Peyton Barber, who will join Lawson at Auburn, along with linebacker Grant Smith, a preferred walk-on.
While Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, was pulling on an Ole Miss hat and removing his letterman’s jacket to reveal suspenders decorated with Rebels logos, a Milton assistant coach was helping Lawson with his tie.
“I don’t know what to do here,” Lawson said, laughing.
One by one, Lawson’s teammates took to the stage and signed their letters of intent, cameras flashing.
“War Eagle,” Lawson called out as Barber, his future roommate, signed.
At 8:28 a.m., Lawson and his father handed over his letter, his future set and the culmination of a process that the elder Lawson said was not an enjoyable experience.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “It’s something that we thought would be joyous but after a while it was like ‘OK, I’m not answering the phone anymore.’”
But it wasn’t over yet.
Students filed into the auditorium, taking their seats as Lawson was fitted with an earpiece for his appearance on ESPNU. He playfully blew a kiss to the students and drew a laugh for bellowing out “HELLO?” before going on the air and discussing his decision and playing for coach Gus Malzahn.
“Plain and simple, every time I went into Auburn I felt at home,” he said. “It’s the best overall fit for me and my family. It’s a great place, it’s a special place and there’s no other place like it in college football.”
As the cameras were turned off, Lawson gave two thumbs up and removed the earpiece.
“Any media want to ask questions?” Milton athletic director Gary Sylvestri asked, Lawson shaking his head no in the background.
“Once they get all the information out of you, they stop bothering you,” Lawson said.
As we made our way to the field house, word came that defensive tackle Montravius Adams, the nation’s No. 3 recruit, would be joining Lawson on The Plains – but it was a commitment Lawson was already well aware of.
“Yeah, we got him, got Elijah (Daniel),” Lawson said. “We have more coming.”
The Tigers boasted a class ranked 13th by Scout.com, behind Adams, a five-star prospect, and eight four-stars in Lawson, Daniel, a defensive end, defensive tackle Ben Bradley, running back Johnathan Ford, wide receivers Jason Smith and Tony Stevens and quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall.
Lawson changed out of his dress clothes and into something more fitting. Sprawled out across a couch with his mom, Mignon Clark, nearby he wore a blue Tigers hat, blue sweatshirt and orange T-shirt, the circus of Signing Day playing out on TV as he checked his phone.
The cameras were gone, his Letter of Intent faxed to Auburn long ago. It was another low-key moment in a day that’s become anything but.