04/27/06 — Manny Lawson's jersey retired at EW

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Manny Lawson's jersey retired at EW

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on April 27, 2006 2:14 PM

By the end of the day on Saturday, one NFL team will likely make Eastern Wayne graduate Manny Lawson instantly wealthy by selecting him in the 2006 Draft.

After spending four hours at his alma-mater on Wednesday afternoon, he left already feeling like a million bucks.

In front of a large group of faculty, students and former coaches in the Warriors' gymnasium, Lawson's No. 88 he sported in high school became the third football jersey retired in school history -- joining Mike Donaldson and Gary Gambrell.

The former N.C. State standout and probable first-round draft pick was given his blue high school uniform, while his white jersey will hang in the school's trophy case. At the end of the ceremony, Lawson also presented the school with one of his white, game-worn Wolfpack tops.

Several of his former prep coaches -- Marvin Bowman, Joe Mitchell, Brent Holland and Tony Parrish -- spoke their praises of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end and offered their best wishes.

"It feels like a blessing having worked with that young man," former Eastern Wayne football coach Joe Mitchell said. "I was thrilled to have the opportunity to coach him. Whatever I have done in his life is probably minor for what he's done for me."

Before the ceremonies, Lawson walked the halls and stopped by one of his old science rooms and took a picture with Barbara Stroud's class.

Stroud was pleased to see that Lawson's demeanor hasn't changed much since high school.

"He isn't just a good athlete. He is a good person all-around," she said. "We're all so proud of him."

He was proud to be back, too.

"To see my teachers, it's a site for sore eyes. I don't think kids now days understand how to fully appreciate a teacher," Lawson said.

Appropriately, using a red Sharpie, Lawson signed hundreds of autographs -- before the ceremony in the hall and after seated at a table in the gym. Making sure he spelled every name correctly, he signed everything from a 10-pound weight for the weight room to pieces of notebook paper.

"I don't think I've ever signed that many (autographs)," Lawson said. "I've signed a few though on our 'Meet the Pack' day."

A pow-wow

with the Warriors

At the end of the day, members of the Eastern Wayne football team gathered in the bleachers in the far right corner of the gym as Lawson spoke briefly, then opened up for questions for nearly an hour.

The players weren't bashful, with questions ranging from, "Who do you think should be the first pick?" to, "How much do you bench press?" to, "How did you budget between academics and football in college?"

Lawson answered all of them, open and honestly.

One of the last questions -- and the answer -- may have been the most interesting of the session.

A current Warrior asked, "What motivates you to succeed?"

Lawson answered, "I've always been the curious type ... I just wanted to see how far I could take this and how far I could go."

Obviously, Lawson's "gone" a long way, but many, including himself, believe the sky is still the limit at the professional level.

With draft day

approaching ...

Lawson has seen his name jump up the draft board by many prognosticators and web sites in recent weeks and days.

The reason?

Lawson points to a solid performance in the Senior Bowl on top of impressive efforts during the NFL combines and individual workouts and interviews.

"As soon as the collegiate season was over, I felt like I had an advantage. I wasn't worried or stressed about the workouts, and I feel comfortable interviewing and speaking to people," he said. "During the Senior Bowl, I was aggressive on the field. Knowing the coaches were out there watching, gave me more incentive to show my talent. I wanted to silence my critics that I could be a run stopper and pass rush against quality tackles. I showed off."

He is being rumored to be picked as high as No. 18 to Dallas and as low as No. 29 to the New York Jets. Scouts, Inc. has Lawson being selected No. 22 by San Francisco. Other teams that are rumored to be interested in taking the Goldsboro native are Kansas City (No. 20) and New England (No. 21).

"I really don't get into the rumors, but I have 'googled' my name five times during this process just to see what people have said," Lawson said. "The constant hard work and wanting to show America and the world that there is a Manny Lawson out there has paid off."

Still, Lawson knows nothing is guaranteed, and he's approaching the draft with an element of admitted cockiness.

"The way I look at it, if you pass me up I'm going to make you pay," he said.

Most of the aforementioned mentioned teams run a "3-4" defensive scheme as Lawson's size and speed may make him more suited to be an outside linebacker in the pros, instead of a defensive end.

Lawson is welcome and open to a change of position.

"I think it would suit my personality (to switch to linebacker). I've played linebacker before, eventhough it wasn't outside in the 3-4," he said. "I love the thought of acting like I'm going to blitz, then dropping into coverage. Or lolly-gagging in the back, then all of a sudden I'm at the quarterback."

Whenever he is selected, he will be miles away from Goldsboro as Lawson will be vacationing with his family in Orlando, Fla. beginning later this week. When his name is called at the draft this weekend, his new home may even be farther away ... perhaps in another time zone.

But if Wednesday is any indication, the hometown hero's heart will always be close to home.