PITTSBORO — He got his first scholarship offer as an eighth grader at Pollard Middle School. He earned three more from Power Five schools in the spring, months after a strong freshman year at Northwood.
And now, sophomore Chris Lawson Jr. is pursuing his football dreams in a new town.
Over the summer, the star 16-year-old wide receiver transferred from 3A Northwood to 4A Hough, a football powerhouse in Cornelius with nine seniors currently committed to Division 1 programs.
“It’s a good opportunity because the competition level is definitely higher, which will prepare me more for next level,” Lawson told the News + Record. “Plus, more coaches on the coaching staff, more time dedicated to certain players, more time dedicated to skill players.”
It was a perfect storm, his father Chris Lawson Sr. added in a joint interview Monday. He works for a logistics and supply chain management company, and a better position opened up this summer in the Charlotte area. From a career standpoint, Lawson Sr. couldn’t pass it up.
“From there, it was: ‘OK, so if I’m going to relocate, what’s the best school in this area for Chris?’” he said. “Just doing our research, we decided Hough was going to be the place.”
The Lawsons, who left on good terms with Northwood football head coach Cullen Homolka and his staff, had lived in Chatham County for three years after moving there from South Carolina.
Lawson attended Pollard Middle for two years, where he was a standout guard in basketball but didn’t play football, since Chatham County Schools doesn’t offer it on a middle school level.
But he and his dad frequented the showcase camps that colleges often host. Two specific trips, when Lawson was an 8th grader, gave them plenty of assurance schools were still taking notice.
First, they traveled to Miami for a camp on Florida International’s campus. Head coach Butch Davis’ staff was impressed enough with Lawson’s wide receiver skills to offer him the same day.
“That was crazy,” Lawson said.
The following week, they headed north for a camp at Pittsburgh, and Lawson had another strong showing. Although coach Pat Narduzzi’s staff couldn’t offer him immediately, Lawson Sr. remembered their words of encouragement: “Hey, you’re on our radar.”
“Then he had that season,” Lawson Sr. said, “and we knew Pitt was coming at some point.”
That season, Lawson’s first at the high school level, was no joke.
As a freshman, he led Northwood in catches (36), receiving yards (571), yards per catch (15.9) and yards per game (57.1). His four touchdown catches were tied for the most on the team, and his best four-game stretch coincided (perhaps not coincidentally) with Northwood’s four-game midseason win streak.
A review of his Hudl mixtape shows a 6-foot-1, 165-pound wideout who’s equally adept at beating defenders deep on stop-and-goes as he is running more technical slant and corner routes. Lawson can beat defenders after the catch, too, and used that elusiveness as part-time kick and punt returner.
Some of his top stat lines from the 2019 season included: seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown against Chapel Hill, four for 96 against Western Harnett and six for 107 and touchdown against East Chapel Hill, his personal favorite game from his freshman year.
“Going into the season, my mindset was to just be me and play football like I’d been doing my whole life,” said Lawson, who often goes by the nickname CLJ. “I wasn’t looking at it like, ‘Oh wow, I’m playing varsity.’ I was just playing football. I was just going out there doing me, and it turned out good — I think.”
South Carolina certainly thought so. After watching Lawson’s film, the coaching staff reached out to Homolka, got Lawson’s contact information and offered him a scholarship April 30. That set off a mini-flurry, as ACC schools N.C. State and Pittsburgh extended offers the following day, May 1.
Since most Power Five schools wait until after a prospect’s sophomore year to offer, Lawson Sr. said other schools have been touch and will be monitoring his son’s second season. That list includes: Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Tennessee, Penn State, Florida State and Army West Point.
“It’s super exciting,” Lawson Sr. said. “Chris, he’s a special kid: focused and dedicated to what he does. I don’t have to push him or anything. He wants it.”
Lawson is about a month into classes at Hough. He’s looking forward to specializing at wide receiver — rather than playing also cornerback, which he did at Northwood — and improving his route running a la Jerry Jeudy, the NFL rookie speedster from Alabama whose footwork videos have gone viral.
As he gets deeper into his football career, Lawson will also have a helpful mentor in his father.
Lawson Sr., 46, played defensive back at Rhode Island, had some NFL tryouts and spent four years in the Arena Football League, where he once crossed paths with future Super Bowl MVP quarterback Kurt Warner. In other words: he’s been through the recruiting process, and he knows football.
But he also wants his 16-year-old son forge his own way forward as a prospect.
“I’ve taken my experiences and used that to try and guide Chris and his path, but not live vicariously through him,” Lawson Sr. said. “This is him. This is all him.”
And if Lawson’s freshman year at Northwood is any indication, he’s off to a good start.
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