Virgen: Prep football's poster boy

When Daniel Lawrence was a freshman, he could easily be described as scrawny, not really someone you'd expect to play football.

He was 5-foot-9, 115 pounds and what's worse he began to lose confidence. A lack of playing time can do that to any competitor, and especially a beginner.

But Lawrence didn't want to give up on the game. He didn't want to quit on himself.

Lawrence had always set the goal that he would play all four years of high school football. He saw the game as a connection to his father, George, who also played the game and remains a big fan. They both follow the New York Giants, because Dad is from New York.

Lawrence was just excited to put on a football uniform. But he admits, the lack of playing time and a rough freshman season challenged him.

You see, this isn't a story about a five-star college football recruit. And, that's OK.

This is about high school football.

"He's what high school football is all about," Costa Mesa High Coach Wally Grant said.

Lawrence improved each year with the Mustangs, and became a clear example of what hard work can result in just with his progress from his junior year to his senior year.

He had all of four catches as a junior receiver for the Mustangs in 2012. Granted, catches are not that easy to come by in Grant's run-heavy offense.

But Lawrence, now 6-3, 170 pounds, caught 26 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. He also stood out as a defensive back for the Mustangs and helped Costa Mesa win the Orange Coast League championship.

He earned first-team all-league honors.

But his story isn't solely about football.

Lawrence also excelled in the classroom.

His father is a teacher at Saddleback, and his mother, Mitzi, works a substitute teacher. They always stressed the importance of academics to their son.

Lawrence carries a 4.19 grade-point average. He is most likely headed to UC Irvine in the fall.

He was honored as one of 50 scholar-athlete award winners at the 44th annual National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame dinner on March 10 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Lawrence sat and ate with the rest of the scholar-athlete award winners. Each kid had a story to tell.

Lawrence's was that of perseverance, never turning in his gear until his final season.

It's sometimes amazing what high school football can do. Aside from the desire to win there is so much more.

What did Lawrence learn from football?

"Hard work, and you just can't quit," Lawrence said last week at Costa Mesa High. "During the summer we'll be here from 8 in the morning to 6 at night. Of course you want to go home, but you can't. You just have to learn to deal with it because if you want to be good you have to put in the work to be good."

Lawrence gained motivation from his coaches and his teammates. Many of the players grew up together. Lawrence went to Killybooke Elementary and then to Costa Mesa Middle School.

He lives on the same street as his closest friends, Oliver Ferris, who played quarterback, and Oronde Crenshaw, who starred at running back and linebacker.

Ferris attended the scholar-athlete awards dinner as Lawrence's guest.

The teammates all enjoy supporting each other. Their unity is what helped bring an Orange Coast League championship to Costa Mesa.

The Anteaters don't have a football team, so most likely Lawrence's playing days are done. He wants to keep his options open at UCI and just do his best. He enjoys mathematics, and he is leaning toward focusing on engineering.

Five years from now, he said he's not sure what his life will be like.

"My dream job as a kid was to be Oronde Crenshaw's sports agent," Lawrence said with a smile. "That can keep me in football."

What ever happens in Lawrence's life, he'll know to never quit. If he's at UCI, he'll know to apply that mentality to his academics.

It's that intelligence that also helped him improve on the football team and become a key contributor. Grant likes to point out that Lawrence was the backup quarterback in addition to all of his other assignments.

Grant also enjoys noting that Lawrence hardly complained about the lack of passes thrown his way.

"He's just a fun, fun kid," Grant said of Lawrence. "He has really good parenting. I know they are extremely proud with what they've done with Daniel."

Also at the special scholar-athlete awards dinner, Corona del Mar High's Charlie Griffin and Brett Olson were honored. CdM's Scott Meyer was named as one of two with the Coach of the Year Award, after guiding the Sea Kings to a 16-0 record, along with their third straight CIF Southern Section Southern Division championship and the school's first CIF State Division III Bowl Game title.

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