09/06/04 — Pack's Lawson loves the line

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Pack's Lawson loves the line

By David Williams
Published in Sports on September 6, 2004 1:55 PM

RALEIGH -- When Manny Lawson is focused, he's really focused.

The North Carolina State junior defensive end and Eastern Wayne High School alumnus was asked after the Wolfpack's 42-0 demolition of Richmond Saturday night if he was looking forward to the big rematch in two weeks against Ohio State.

"All I care about is the team that we play next," he said. "I don't look past a team, because that's the wrong thing to do. If you look ahead, you catch a loss. So the team that's up next is the team I focus on. Whenever that team comes around, then it will be my turn to focus on them. One game at a time."

No one in the room considered telling Lawson that the Pack had an open week Saturday and his next opponent was -- Ohio State.

He would surely see it in the coming hours as State put the win away and got ready to meet the vaunted Buckeyes.

Lawson and his defensive teammates were expected to dominate 1-AA Richmond. But giving up just 167 yards in the game -- just 63 in the air -- and forcing two interceptions and a fumble was an impressive night's work, no matter the opponent.

The fumble was Lawson's own feat.

Early in the third quarter, Spider quarterback Stacy Tutt dropped back and found Lawson closing in from behind. He stepped up. evading Lawson, and into the arms of Mario Williams, dropping the ball.

"I've been itching to get to the quarterback for oh, so long," said Lawson. "At our practices, we can't touch our quarterback, so this is the first quarterback we got to touch. When I saw the opportunity, I went for it. I wanted the sack, but I didn't quite get there -- he was very slippery.

"I saw the ball popped out, so I hopped on it."

To hop on the ball, Lawson dove from behind Tutt and grabbed the ball -- a four-yard reach.

"I think Mario had him in a choke hold, and he was motioning to me, like, 'Come on, Manny, get the ball,' " he said.

After moving from linebacker last season, Lawson and Williams make a bookend set of defensive ends at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7, both with great leaping ability and stork-like reach. It's quite a chore for opposing quarterbacks to throw over the rangy ends.

"As the season progresses, there's no telling what's going to happen," Lawson said. "People are going to focus on him, on me, and then that leaves the two middle people open. You can't forget about Dwayne Herndon, John McCargo and Tank Tyler, because they make plays too."

Lawson was hard on himself, thinking he could have been better prepared personally for Richmond.

"I made the mistake of coming in there and not really looking into my playbook like I should have," he said. "Most of the linemen from last year were gone, and they gave me a terrible time. The only time I saw the quarterback was on that fumble, and I never saw him again."

Transitioning to the line has been easy for Lawson, who played the position at Eastern Wayne and frequently found most opponents ran away from his side of the field. But in college, the challenge to get to the quarterback can often prove fruitless.

"I enjoy it so much," he said. "But on that note, it makes me kind of crazy. You get bruised and bumped and hit, and then it's intstant contact right away.

" I love it. I love it a lot."

Lawson is not like a lot of college players in that he understands the limits of his NFL dream.

"I look at myself, and I don't have the frame of a defensive end," he said. "A few people make it to the next level. My focus is on academics, and playing football is for the love of the game. Whatever happens with football happens, and I'll accept it either way."

And he likes what he belives the Wolfpack is capable of this season.

"The team is going to carry itself," he said. "If we all do what we're supposed to do -- offense, defense, special teams -- nobody can hang with us."

By now, Lawson is well aware of his team's next opponent. That is likely not a comforting thought in Columbus, Ohio.