04/15/04 — Lawson draws raves from Amato

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Lawson draws raves from Amato

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on April 15, 2004 1:57 PM

As a freshman, Eastern Wayne graduate Manny Lawson watched as the N.C. State defense held both perennial national powers Florida State and Notre Dame without an offensive touchdown at the end of the 2002 season.

Wolfpack head coach Chuck Amato doesn't hesitate in offering what was the most important component to that success.

"It's all got to start up front. It's got to be huge," Amato said. "If you can dominate up front, then you can have a great defensive football team like we did two years ago."

The season that culminated in a 28-6 win over the Fighting Irish in the Gator Bowl, also saw State lose a bulk of that defensive talent to graduation.

Last year, with a far more less experienced defensive corps, pressure up front was significantly down. The Pack went from 51 sacks in 2002 to 33 in 2003, while allowing 121 more yards per game on average.

Lawson, who saw the field mostly as a linebacker last year, and a handful of other defensive players were thrust into the limelight -- maybe a little earlier than Amato may have liked.

Though they will still have their fair share of youth, there is reason to believe things could be different when the Pack opens up a difficult 2004 schedule at Carter Finley Stadium against Richmond on Sept. 4 with Lawson and sophomore Mario Williams, both listed at six-foot-five, coming off the ends.

Including his days at Florida State as a defensive coach, Amato has never had two defensive ends playing at the same time that combine for that much size, speed and wingspan.

"We've never had two that size at six-foot-five or six," Amato said. "We've had very good ends with Peter Boulware and Andre Wadsworth, but I've never had two at that size."

Amato and the staff moved Lawson to defensive end during the Tangerine Bowl win over Kansas at the end of last season and clearly liked what they saw.

The progression continues for Lawson as the junior had four tackles, one for a loss of six yards with three pass breakups and two quarterback pressures in the Red-White game on April 3.

Clearly Lawson has the athletic ability. Amato still believes he may be the fastest player on the team and according to the 2003 N.C. State media guide, "his vertical jump is higher than the device used to measure that stat."

The key to a successful year at defensive end will be adjusting to the technique.

"After you take your first step, you are going to run into somebody who is 300 pounds or better. And you've got to learn how to use your hands extremely well," Amato said. "He's got long arms for leverage, and he's learning how to use that. This spring we stuck him at end, and he had a heck of a spring.

"He knocked down an awful lot of passes."

Those long arms and leaping ability have been huge for the Pack over the last two seasons on special teams. Lawson has now blocked four kicks in his career, and Amato doesn't see that role diminishing at all.

"I wish we could have red-shirted him so he would be a sophomore this year, but he was so valuable to us as a freshman on special teams," Amato said.

It will be a huge year of change for the Atlantic Coast Conference with powerhouses Miami and Virginia Tech coming into the league. The Pack have a monster schedule in 2004 with the Hurricanes, Ohio State and Florida State all coming to Raleigh with a trip to Blacksburg, Va. to face the Hokies as well. State's regular season ends with a trip to Charlotte to take on rival East Carolina.

"I don't know if anyone ever dreamed of playing the likes of Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech all in Raleigh, much less in the same year," Amato said. "The thing it's going to do is make everybody get better. Everyone is going to have to step up another step."

It looks as if Lawson and the N.C. State defense are on their way.