One of the strengths of Jacksonville State’s football team this year will be its defensive line.
Even if watching an 87-play scrimmage Saturday hadn’t been proof of that, just check the roster. There is a transfer from Alabama (LaMichael Fanning) and a pair from Auburn (Devaunte Sigler and Chris Landrum). Another comes from Ole Miss, Kameron Wood.
But if I could have only one player off JSU’s defensive line, I might start with nose tackle Caleb Lawrence, a 6-foot-0, 300-pounder who looks a bit like a lumberjack with close-cropped brown hair and a semi-long beard. He has a big belly that his jersey has a hard time covering. Instead of fighting that battle every practice and game, Lawrence gave up and tucks the tail under his shoulder pads, leaving that belly for all to see.
I feel sorry for any offensive lineman who figures he’s an easy mark, because he was a no-star prospect out of Opelika High four years ago.
Lawrence never has been an easy mark at JSU. Now a senior, Lawrence was a key reserve as a true freshman, a starter as a sophomore and one of the league’s best defensive linemen as a junior, making second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference.
He led the team with 11.5 tackles behind the line, which means he’s strong enough to defeat a blocker and fast enough to get by him and stop a ball carrier before he even has gotten back to the line. This season, he is a preseason first-team All-OVC and should give JSU another steady and solid performance.
According to his Rivals.com bio from 2011, Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss weren’t pursuing him. Instead, it was Middle Tennessee State, Wofford, Georgia Southern and JSU.
The Gamecocks got a good one. Unlike some of his teammates on the Gamecocks’ defensive line, he didn’t spend time at an SEC school, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have played there.
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.