The odds of any kid growing up to become an NFL Draft pick are long. The odds of a kid growing up to get drafted by his lifelong favorite team are absurdly long.
Silver Bluff’s Demarcus Lawrence felt like he’d won the lottery when he answered his phone Friday and heard team owner Jerry Jones say “you’re now a Dallas Cowboy; we just picked you.” His family and friends erupted in celebration in the background like it was New Year’s Eve and the countdown clock hit zero.
“My whole family is Cowboys fans, so just imagine them in the room just screaming,” he said of the draft party scene. “Words can’t even explain it. It’s just really a blessing to become a Cowboy – you’ve wanted to be a Cowboy all your life and now you get to put on that blue and that silver. It’s amazing.”
Lawrence never really had a choice about being a Cowboys fan in Aiken, where the regional rooting tendencies more likely lean toward the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers or a faint lingering spirit for the Washington Redskins. Not in the Lawrence house.
“My dad, he’s the head of the household and somebody can’t stay in this house unless they are a Cowboys fan,” Lawrence said.
Dallas turned out to be big fans of “Tank” Lawrence as well. The Cowboys were the only team to put Lawrence through a private workout and also invite him to their facilities for a visit. They had Lawrence ranked third among right-side pass rushers behind only South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1 overall pick to Houston) and UCLA’s Anthony Barr (No. 9 to Minnesota).
The Cowboys had the worst defense in the NFL last year and parted ways with franchise pass rusher DeMarcus Ware in free agency. They need the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Lawrence to develop into a disruptive presence against opposing left tackles and were willing to give up a second- and third-round pick to arch rival Washington Redskins to move up 13 spots to pick Lawrence 34th overall.
“He was the last guy we really had in terms of the right-end spot,” said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ director of player personnel. “We knew we might have to give up a little more than maybe the charts read out. That happens sometimes when you want a guy and we really wanted this guy. We didn’t want to lose him. We worked through the deal. We sweetened the pot a little bit and got the deal done.”
Lawrence grew up admiring and trying to emulate Ware, and now he has the task of replacing one of the most popular players in Dallas the past decade.
“I know it’s some big shoes to fill, but I’m going to work my butt off and give it my all,” he said. “I’m going to do all I can to become the best and one day fill those shoes.”
It hasn’t been the smoothest road from Silver Bluff to the NFL for Lawrence. It started with a two-year academic detour to Butler (Kan.) Community College when his high school transcripts were insufficient. He played only one season of junior college football and moved further West to Boise State.
His on-field production for the Broncos was gaudy – 34 tackles for loss, 20 sacks and seven forced fumbles in only 23 games over the past two seasons. The sack figure is the third-highest career total in Boise State history. He was named the Broncos’ outstanding defensive lineman in 2012 and defensive MVP in 2013.
Off the field, however, wasn’t perfect. Lawrence was suspended for a game three different times – including the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl – for the ubiquitous “unspecified violation of team rules.” Lawrence said they were just “little things” and “childish behaviors” that were all part of his maturing process. The Cowboys didn’t flinch to trade up to get him.
“It really doesn’t matter what they were about, it just matters learning from the things and not repeating my mistakes and moving on,” he said of his collegiate transgressions. “It was just me growing up, adjusting to the college life coming from a small town and then college. I had a lot of adjustment to go through – some of my family dying and I’m up there by myself, nobody to talk to or nothing. I had a lot of stuff on my shoulders and I just had to learn how to take a lot of that aggression and bring it to football.”
That’s exactly what the Cowboys are counting on him to do and he hopes to repay their faith in him.
“I felt like the Cowboys liked me a lot, but in the draft you never know where they’re going to go,” Lawrence said. “I’m just thanking God for everything and thanking Jerry (Jones) and the staff for trusting me.”
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett believes Lawrence will make a difference for an elite franchise starved for success with only one playoff game victory since 1996.
“We think a lot of him as a player and the skill set that he brings in, the traits that he has to play right end for us,” Garrett said. “There are a lot of defensive linemen in the draft, but we felt that there were only a few guys that could play that spot that have that elite skill to be able to do that.”
Lawrence is ready to go. His girlfriend is reportedly due to deliver their baby boy later in May, and his first training camp will begin shortly thereafter. Then this fall Lawrence will realize his dream since age 7 and play on top of the sliver-and-blue star in AT&T Stadium.
After watching and cheering for Dallas all his life, now Cowboys fans will be watching and cheering for him.
“I’m going to put on a show for all Jerry’s customers and fans,” Lawrence said