Brent Lawson's debut as the starting quarterback for Corona del Mar High wasn't last week. His first shot came last year, in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs.
Lawson said he wasn't as nervous last week in the Sea Kings' season opener as he felt when he got the call for last year's playoff opener.
On a Monday, three days after the team wrapped up its first outright league title in 22 years, the coach called Lawson into his office. Jason Hitchens had already talked to the starter, Mitch Gardner, one of Lawson's best friends, who helped CdM go unbeaten in league.
Hitchens then gave Lawson, the backup, the shocking news.
"He pulled me in and told me that I'm going to start the game," said Lawson, who was as surprised as he was excited about the opportunity. "I had to lead the team. It was a big change."
The job was Lawson's for one quarter.
Hitchens replaced Lawson with Gardner, his starter all year long. To this day, Lawson said he has no idea why he didn't get to finish what he started.
The Sea Kings led Ocean View, 7-6, after the first quarter. All Lawson heard after that from Hitchens was, "We're going with Mitch."
"I thought I was doing pretty well," said Lawson, who watched Gardner help CdM beat Ocean View, 21-13. "I kind of starting getting into rhythm."
With Hitchens no longer around, Lawson earned his chance to enter this season where he left off in the last one.
And Lawson found his groove as the Sea Kings' signal caller in the first game of the year. The senior threw three touchdown passes and completed 11-of-19 passes for 199 yards, and ran for 41 yards, helping CdM rout host Savanna, 40-7.
The performance turned in by Lawson impressed Scott Meyer, who's in his first year at the helm at CdM, as well as last year's starting quarterback.
Gardner and Lawson remain close. Lawson taking over at quarterback in the first round of the playoffs didn't come between the two.
But the two don't like talking about what happened.
Gardner is at Chico State, where he plans to play baseball, but he and Lawson talk on the phone and text each other a lot during the week. Before last week's game, the two chatted on Facebook.
When two quarterbacks interact, the former gives the current one advice. Lawson is all for getting better. He remembers how Gardner last year threw for 1,635 yards and 19 touchdowns, both area bests.
"I send him film after every game," said Lawson, who also sent Gardner footage from the Sea Kings' scrimmage against Costa Mesa. "He said it was good. I tell him, too, to be super hard on me."
Once Lawson was open to constructive criticism, Gardner let him have it.
"You got to get the ball out of your hands quicker," Gardner told Lawson.
When Savanna sacked Lawson on the Sea Kings' second offensive series, Gardner explained why it happened.
"You got to feel the blitz," Gardner said.
Lawson understands when he's sacked it's not always the offensive line's fault. He trusts his line, which consists of left tackle Nick Storm, left guard Hunter Molnar, center Caden Stark, right guard Giovanni Gentosi and right tackle Liam Duddy.
Three of the guys up front protected Lawson two years ago, when Lawson was the junior varsity quarterback. Lawson, Stark, Duddy and Molnar were sophomores back then. That season, Lawson said, was a special one because CdM never lost.
Most of that team moved up to varsity. Lawson said the Sea Kings, ranked fourth in the Southern Division poll, have what it takes to put together another memorable season.
Lawson has the weapons on offense, tight end Matt English, running back Erik Fisher and wide receivers Troy Reese and Chris Johnstone. The defense, led by linebacker Aaron White and cornerback Cole Cottrell, will give Lawson good field position to work with.
Defending the league title is a goal, but Lawson wants to lead the Sea Kings to the section title. In two of the past three seasons, CdM bowed out in the semifinals each time.
"We want to win CIF," said Lawson, who plans to play baseball at Yale after he graduates. "That's what we've worked so hard for and spend so much time in the summer. It's where we want to go. There's steps on the way, [nonleague wins against] Huntington [Beach], [Newport] Harbor would be nice, a league title would be nice, but ultimately, I think we're really playing for the 14th game."
Born: Oct. 9, 1993
Hometown: Newport Beach
Weight: 175 pounds
Coach: Scott Meyer
Favorite food: Double-double from In-N-Out Burger
Favorite movie: "Top Gun"
Favorite athletic moment: "Beating Savanna [and] throwing [three] touchdowns."
Week in review: Lawson threw touchdown passes and 199 yards on 11-of-19 passing and he ran for 41 yards, leading the Sea Kings to a 40-7 rout of Savanna in a season opener at Glover Stadium.