Recently, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story about Trevor Lawrence in the run up to the 2021 NFL Draft, and this was the headline:
“Trevor Lawrence: What is the Best QB Prospect in Years Out to Prove? Absolutely Nothing.”
There are some quotes in the piece that have raised peoples’ eyebrows:
“It’s not like I need this [football] for my life to be O.K. I want to do it because I want to be the best I can be. I want to maximize my potential. Who wouldn’t want to? You kind of waste it if you don’t.”
Lawrence is only 21. He finished Cartersville (Ga.) High three years ago and still peppers his sentences with like. But he lacks that youthful desire to conquer the world.
“It’s hard to explain that because I want people to know that I’m passionate about what I do and it’s really important to me, but . . . I don’t have this huge chip on my shoulder, that everyone’s out to get me and I’m trying to prove everybody wrong,” he says. “I just don’t have that. I can’t manufacture that. I don’t want to.” Marissa adds, “There’s also more in life than playing football.”
“Yeah,” Trevor says. “And I think people mistake that for being a competitor. . . . I think that’s unhealthy to a certain extent, just always thinking that you’ve got to prove somebody wrong, you’ve got to do more, you’ve got to be better.”
Trevor has always been like this. Everybody in the family says that off the football field, Marissa, who played soccer at Division II Anderson University, is more competitive than he is. His father says, “He’s not award-driven. He’s not, ‘I want to win a Super Bowl at all costs.’ ” Trevor’s coach at Cartersville High, Joey King, says, “There is no doubt about it: With who he is as a person, he could walk away from it tomorrow and be fine.” Others who know Lawrence well agree.
I’m trying not to overreact here, but it’s hard not to. This is concerning stuff.
You do not want your franchise QB to have what appears to be a somewhat indifferent attitude towards football.
Now, in his defense, there’s no way a guy like Trevor Lawrence can have a chip on his shoulder. He’s the guy that people have a chip on their shoulder because of. He’s the guy that everyone else is compared to and falls short of. You can’t have a chip on your shoulder if you’re a company like Apple, or if you’re born into the Kennedy family. You’re not an underdog. You’re an overdog.
But the SI story points out that most of the top QBs in the NFL today have been underdogs:
- Tom Brady was the 199th pick of the draft. We all know his story.
- Aaron Rodgers was snubbed by his hometown 49ers in the 2005 Draft and then proceeded to fall all the way to the 25th pick of the first round. He’s used this as motivation ever since. This is a guy who had to play football at Butte Community College his freshman because no Division I programs wanted him.
- Patrick Mahomes was drafted behind Mitchell Trubisky. There wasn’t a soul in 2017 who thought Mahomes was a better prospect than Trubisky.
- Lamar Jackson still to this day gets no respect as a passer, people call him a running back and when he was about to be drafted, people said he should switch to wide receiver.
- People said Drew Brees was too short to play quarterback in the NFL. After an injury early in his career, his original team, the Chargers, opted not to bring him back and sent him packing, drafting his replacement, Philip Rivers, in 2004.
- Baker Mayfield had to walk on at Texas Tech, then transferred to Oklahoma, walked on there, too, and eventually won a Heisman and became the #1 pick in the 2018 draft. He and Lawrence took drastically different paths to becoming the #1 overall pick.
- Russell Wilson was selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, pick 75. He was the 6th QB taken in that draft, behind Andrew Luck, RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler.
There’s a theme here: the most successful QBs are also the most driven and motivated players in the game. They all have their own version of an underdog mentality. They’re out to prove everyone who doubted them wrong, constantly.
But nobody has ever doubted Trevor Lawrence. Ever. He’s been the Golden Boy since he was in high school. So I totally get what he’s saying when he says he can’t manufacture a chip on his shoulder. And it’s good that he’s not lying to himself or being fake.
But then again, Michael Jordan literally invented reasons to convince himself people were still doubting him. When he caught wind of Jerry Krause’s affinity for Phoenix’s Dan Majerle, Jordan made it a point to attack and abuse Majerle all throughout the 1993 NBA Finals:
“I knew that Jerry Krause loved Dan Majerle. And just because Krause liked him was enough for me. He thinks he’s a great defensive player, but OK, fine. I’m going to show you that he’s not.
I put it in my mindset that, if I don’t do this, then they’re going to consider him on the same level as me. And that motivated me to attack.”
This is after winning multiple MVP awards and two straight NBA titles. Jordan was literally inventing reasons to try that much harder, even when he was on top of the world. Dan Majerle never did or said anything to him, and yet in Jordan’s mind, Dan Majerle was out to eat his lunch and dethrone him.
The closest basketball analogy to Trevor Lawrence I can think of is LeBron: widely regarded as the greatest prospect ever dating all the way back to high school, immense levels of hype, sky-high expectations, not a doubter in the world, everyone trying to weasel their way into his orbit and get a piece of him.
But LeBron was and has been able to manufacture his own motivation and underdog mentality because he’s had his sights set on supplanting MJ as the GOAT since the day he entered the NBA. So one MVP award was not enough. Two, three, four MVP awards were not enough. One championship wasn’t enough. Two wasn’t enough. Three wasn’t enough. And now four still isn’t enough for him, because MJ won six. LeBron set his goals as high as any basketball player could ever set them, and has been trying to reach those goals for 18 years now.
LeBron also had the chip on his shoulder after he went to Miami: everyone rooting for him to fail, receiving some of the most blistering, personal and merciless criticism of any athlete ever, people calling him a choker after the 2011 Finals when the Heat lost to Dallas.
Now LeBron has the “Washed King” mentality, trying to prove people who think he’s too old wrong. LeBron has been the best basketball player alive since about 2007, and yet he’s still found ways to convince himself–in his own mind–that he’s on the outside looking in, he’s doubted, he’s not respected. He said it after winning his fourth championship in October: “I want my damn respect, too.” He still views himself as a kid from Akron who grew up without a father and who was never supposed to make it in life.
Even though LeBron was and remains to this day the most hyped-up and raved-about NBA prospect ever, he still has motivation to keep pushing himself to new heights. He still has that chip on his shoulder. He finds new ways to motivate himself all the time.
In professional sports, everybody’s talented. Sure, some guys are more talented than others, but what really separates these guys is the desire to win. You have to just want it more than the guy standing in your way. The guys that don’t truly want it, or who are in it mainly for the money, they never reach the levels of success that the truly driven guys do.
Trevor Lawrence is going to have to find a way to motivate himself once he gets to the NFL. Because for the first time in his life, he’s going to be playing against guys who are just as talented as he is. There’s plenty of QBs in the NFL with as much talent or more than Lawrence. There’s guys who are better than him. The coaches in the NFL will be able to game-plan for him, study him, learn his weaknesses and exploit them.
Is Lawrence going to be able to dig deep inside himself and find his own motivation to go the extra mile? It’s not easy to stay up all night studying film of this week’s opponent, or to stay an hour or two late after practice to get more reps in, or to hit the weight room when you’re sore and beat-up and tired. You don’t naturally want to do all that stuff. You have to be internally-driven and motivated to want to put in the extra work needed to give yourself an edge over the competition.
Talent alone doesn’t win in the NFL. You have to outwork everyone else.
Another great comparison–perhaps the best comparison–for Trevor Lawrence is Peyton Manning: he came into the 1998 Draft as the #1 prospect, the son of a well-known former NFL quarterback, and with expectations through the roof. Everybody agreed that Peyton Manning was the most talented QB prospect in a generation, possibly ever.
And he ended up living up to the hype.
What made Peyton Manning great was not his talent. It was his work ethic. He studied so much film he was like a coach on the field. He could walk up to the line of scrimmage and know exactly what the defense was about to do. An article in 2010–entitled, “Peyton Manning is a Genius. He’s Also a Pain in the Ass”–talked about Peyton’s borderline-psychotic level of devotion to the game and competitive nature:
A common theme in virtually every profile of Peyton Manning is the Super Bowl quarterback’s legendary devotion to football. At age 12, he exhorted his pee-wee linemen to block harder. He started deconstructing NFL game video in high school. He arrived at college six weeks early to work out with upperclassmen. A few days after the Indianapolis Colts made him the first pick of the 1998 draft, he had the team playbook memorized. He orders rookies to meet him on the field at 8 a.m. the Monday after they are drafted. He falls asleep watching tape in the basement of his Indianapolis home; his wife slips the remote from his hand. Isn’t that sweet?
The guy was literally obsessed with football. You couldn’t imagine someone saying about Peyton Manning, “Well, he doesn’t really need football, you know? He’s not out to win a Super Bowl at all costs.”
Look, I don’t want to bash on Trevor Lawrence just because he does not appear to have the same mental make-up of these other NFL QBs that have been highly successful. He can absolutely have a good NFL career.
But after reading this stuff, I can say with certainty: he’ll never be the GOAT. He’ll never win multiple Super Bowls.
He just doesn’t have the “Psycho Tom” mindset that compels Tom Brady to keep playing and barking at his teammates at the age of 43 and after winning 4, 5, 6 and now 7 Super Bowls. I cannot see Trevor Lawrence screaming “LET’S FUCKING GOOOOOO!” like Tom Brady when he makes a big play.
Lawrence just does not appear to have that fire inside that Tom Brady and these other great QBs have.
Again, Lawrence can absolutely win an MVP award someday and maybe even a Super Bowl. But he’s not going to be an all-time great. In 10-15 years, we’re not going to be debating whether he’s one of the top 5 all-time QBs. He just doesn’t have the desire to get there. I can already tell.
He’s been incredibly successful in high school and now college because he’s just better than everybody else. I don’t want to say it comes easy to him, but he’s been able to win and succeed so much thus far because of his talent level, not his insane work ethic.
I have no doubt that he’s a hard worker who doesn’t slack off or mail it in during practices, but I also don’t see that drive to continually put in the work to always stay one step ahead of the competition. That’s what you need to succeed in the NFL. In the NFL, you need to constantly be getting better and looking for ways to get an edge, and you can only do this if you really and truly want to be the best and you have a win-at-all-costs mentality.
If you’re not desperate to win, then some guy who is will eat your lunch. Some guy who wants it more is going to take it from you.
It sounds like Trevor Lawrence kind of takes all this for granted, to be quite honest. It sounds like he’s known for a while he’s going to make it to the NFL and make tons of money and be a huge sensation. And it sounds like he’s gotten used to that, and is kind of whatever about it.
The NFL is filled with guys who do not take playing in the NFL for granted. They wake up every day and thank the Lord they’re playing professional football, and they realize how lucky they are to be where they are.
You can’t be too cool for school in the NFL. This is the highest possible level of competition in the football world. You’re swimming with sharks now. There are some straight-up psychopaths in the NFL who will claw and bite and bleed if that’s what’s required to win. These guys are apex predators and they will not hesitate to destroy you at the first sign of weakness or indifference.
All guys that make it to the NFL realize that you eventually hit a wall where your God-given talent can no longer carry you further and further. A lot of guys hit that wall and plateau, never really progressing much further. But a select few guys are able to get to that next level, and the level after that. And they do it by outworking everyone else.
When you get knocked down, the only way you get back up and keep fighting is if you’re driven and motivated. You have to have that fire inside of you that will keep you going, and live in that mindset that you will not stop until you get that first down, get that go-ahead touchdown, win that game to clinch the division, and win that Super Bowl.
If you don’t truly want it deep down in your bones, then you’ll be quick to give up when you encounter adversity. When there’s a wall or an obstacle in front of guys who truly want it, they find a way to get over or around it. They will not let it stop them or deter them.
Maybe Trevor Lawrence will be able to find ways to motivate himself once he gets to the NFL. Maybe he’ll be driven by the goal of turning the lowly Jaguars into a proud, winning franchise. Urban Meyer is a master motivator and leader. He may well be able to ignite that competitive fire in Lawrence.
But at the end of the day, it’s all on Trevor Lawrence. He’s got to want it. Urban Meyer can only do so much. There’s that old saying about how you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.
For what it’s worth, one you get past all the quotes about football everyone’s talking about, Trevor Lawrence seems like a really cool and down to earth dude. He’s smart, he’s a deep thinker, and he seems to “get it” when it comes to life and this wonderful journey all of us are on. He values the right things in life–family, his wife, his teammates, caring for his fellow man–and seems to come from a great home.
And it’s awesome that he realizes there’s life outside of football. A lot of professional athletes struggle with life after football, but it doesn’t seem like that will be a problem for Lawrence way down the road when his career has run its course. It’s a good thing that he does not need football to find fulfillment in his life.
In 2017, LeBron said something similar about how “basketball is just a game,” and people ripped him for it. “Kobe would never say that! MJ would never say that!” But clearly LeBron pointing out a true, objective and undeniable fact did not mean he was ready to stop competing at the highest level and stop “striving for greatness,” as he often puts it.
So let’s not act like a guy who realizes that there’s more to life than sports can’t succeed at the highest level.
The SI article closes with this:
King is like a lot of football coaches. He believes in goals. Say them, write them down, wake up every day and try to achieve them. That was the strangest part about coaching the nation’s top high school quarterback: If Trevor Lawrence had goals, he didn’t talk about them. Lawrence never said he wanted to throw for a certain number of yards or so many touchdowns or be named the No. 1 recruit in the country. He would just say, “I just want to be better today than I was yesterday.” And yet, he competed so hard.
Before Lawrence’s senior year King brought the quarterback into his office and tried to pry something out of him. Goals, Trevor. You must have goals. Name one goal. As King recalls, “He wasn’t staring me in the eye or anything. There was probably a hair flip or shoulder shrug when he said it.” Lawrence casually told him, “Coach, I just want to be the best that’s ever done it.” They never spoke of it again.
It’s great that he has this goal in mind. It makes me more willing to believe that although he may not have the same mentality as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Michael Jordan, he might be able to blaze his own path to greatness.
But any guy can say he wants to be the best ever. Saying it is one thing, doing it is another thing entirely. That’s where you have to be internally motivated and driven.
The real question isn’t whether or not he wants to be the best ever, but how badly he wants to be the best ever. What is he willing to do and sacrifice to become the best? To what lengths is he willing to go?
On the one hand, Lawrence said he wants to be the best to ever do it. On the other hand, his dad also said Trevor’s not a guy who needs to win a Super Bowl at all costs.
Those are mutually exclusive statements, and that’s why I’m concerned.
I’d still absolutely take him #1 overall because of his talent, and, if I’m Urban Meyer, because I believe I can get through to him and motivate him to devote himself 100% to greatness and winning.
But the stuff in that SI article has me worried. If in the end Trevor Lawrence does not live up to the hype, we can’t say we didn’t see the warning signs.