The junior nose tackle was going to finish his classes, pursue a career in the medical field and get on with the rest of his life.
Then the plan changed. Scrap the trappings of corporate America. This future farmer of America has decided when he’s finished herding opposing quarterbacks he’s going to round up something a lot bigger on the family spread in Lee County.
“Until a couple years ago, I wanted to have a real job, like a doctor or physical therapist,” Lawrence said. “Then I was like, you know what, I love being at my farm. I really want to do something outside. I can’t be cooped up inside all day long.”
Don’t think he’s one of those all-hat, no-cattle cowboy wannabes. He’s looking at running about 50 head of black angus and a couple bucking bulls, which should make his riding brother, Chance, happy.
He knows this stuff. It’s in his genes.
His father, Joel, played junior college baseball in Texas, and in his off time worked on the Flying H Ranch near the college or the family farm. Back in Lee County, his grandfather, Robert Parkman, ran a 340-acre spread where the family raised as many as 300 head of cattle before selling off the stock.
Lawrence had some of his most enjoyable workouts there – throwing hay bales and cutting logs – in preparation for the coming football seasons.
“Any chance I got to be out on the farm, especially with him, I was out there,” he said. “That was my No. 1 place to go. It was so relaxing out here.
“I reckon you could say it’s in my blood. I’m planning on getting back in the game with that.”
It made Joel Lawrence proud to hear of his son’s interest in keeping the family farm going. He said Caleb has the personality, skills and certainly the strength to make a go of it.
“I’m tickled me to death that’s what he wants to do,” he said. “We’ve got some other things going on with the farm and the property other than cattle and it’s going to get bigger. I hope it all works for him.”
The only thing the younger Lawrence is rounding up these days is opposing ball carriers.
Despite a smallish size for his position – 6-foot-0, 300 pounds – he has used his quickness and technique to lead the Gamecocks in sacks (four) and tackles for loss (6.5). He had two sacks in their last game against Tennessee State two weeks ago.
Joel Lawrence said his son not only got his love of ranching from his grandfather, but his athleticism, too. Old-timers say Parkman was one of the best running backs to play at Opelika High.
“He’s just a danged good football player,” Gamecocks coach Bill Clark said of his nose tackle. “He’s quick, uses his hands great, understands leverage, (and) what this guy is trying to do to him.”
Lawrence burst on the scene like a bull out of the chute. JSU fans might remember his effort in the final scrimmage of the 2011 training camp when, as a freshman, he ran down and across the field to keep DaMarcus James from getting in the end zone after a 60-yard run.
“That’s who this guy is,” Clark said. “That shows you what effort can do. He’s a good athlete at his position.”
With Lawrence manning the middle of the defensive line, the Gamecocks have become one of the toughest teams to score against in the red zone in the Ohio Valley Conference.
They have been scored upon 80 percent of the time in the red zone, but they’ve given up only 14 touchdowns in 30 chances, a 46.7 rate that is the best percentage in the league.
Even when teams have had a short red zone to work with, getting past the goal line wasn’t easy.
“I think it’s just everybody’s state of mind,” Lawrence said. “When they get down there, we’re not going to let them score. Just because they’re in the red zone doesn’t mean they have to score a touchdown, and I think that’s our mentality.”
He still gets down to the farm every now and then and spent the Gamecocks’ open weekend there seeding deer plots for later in the season. It was a much welcome respite for a team headed into the most difficult stretch of its schedule with goals still very much in tow.
“Any time you have two losses in the conference, your chances of making it to the playoffs go way down,” Lawrence said. “But if we go week by week and win each game, there’s a shot we still could possibly get a playoff berth, which would be incredible. I think it’s about time Jacksonville State goes to the playoffs.
“Going into these last five weeks, luckily we’re off our bye week. Everybody should be refreshed and ready to get back up in the saddle and ride this thing all out.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.