THERE WERE NO skulls available, so Trevor Lawrence grabbed a grapefruit instead.
In July 2019, just a few months after he led Clemson to the 2018 national championship, Lawrence was cajoled by his older brother, Chase, and sister-in-law, Brooke, to fill in as a model for a series of life-sized oil paintings that the couple had been commissioned to paint. Trevor, the projected No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, is 21 now, and has been a can’t-miss pro prospect since he was a teenager, and the one guiding force through it all has been his unique relationship with Chase, a free spirit, deep thinker and accomplished artist who, to the outside world, perhaps, seems like Trevor’s exact opposite.
“But they really truly are best friends,” says Brooke.
So when Chase, who is nearly five years older, explained the dark, baroque-style, religious-themed painting he envisioned of a monk staring at a skull and then asked his little brother to help, Trevor happily donned a monk’s wardrobe, even after learning the piece was for an art collector who also happened to be a Georgia Bulldogs fan.
The brothers set up a makeshift studio in the darkened sunroom off the kitchen of their parents’ home. Trevor pulled the hood down over his face until the stark shadows captured his distinct chin and high cheekbones. (Chase, who has similar features and the same magnificent family mane, posed as the monk for the second painting in the series.) And just as Trevor grabbed the grapefruit/skull and leaned in ominously, gesticulating toward the candle-lit mantel, the boys’ mom burst in, freezing in her tracks at the bizarre scene.
“What in the world are y’all doing, some kind of weird ritual?” shrieked Amanda Lawrence, as everyone burst out laughing.
“It was hilarious, like a moment straight out of a sitcom,” says Brooke. “It was the perfect scene to walk into: Chase doing something weird and kinda creepy and Trevor there, right by his side, chilling. They both inspire each other and have a lot of influence over each other in a positive way, and it’s really sweet to see. I don’t know how all this talent is in one family, whether they’re athletes or artists, but it is a beautiful, tight-knit group and it’s a big reason why Chase and Trevor are both so successful.”
Especially when they work together.
And as the NFL draft approaches, the Lawrence brothers have once again teamed up on a groundbreaking project that combines their unique talents while offering some insight into one of the highest-rated draft prospects in decades.
Minus all the cloaks and craniums, of course.
IN JANUARY, AFTER finishing his college career 34-2 as a starter while developing into what Mel Kiper Jr. says is the fourth-best quarterback prospect since 1979, Trevor declared for the draft and signed with an agent. One of his first decisions as a pro followed two major trends in sports: the recent boom in the sports cards industry (fueled by the pandemic) and the growing group of young sports stars demanding more personal agency. Trevor signed an exclusive deal with Topps to produce a 50-card box set to be released sometime before the draft that will include 20 cards created by Chase and Brooke. It’s a first for an NFL rookie and a first for Topps, expanding on the formula from the company’s Project72 and Project70, which matched renowned artists with baseball stars.
“I’m excited,” Trevor said at the time. “Chase and Brooke are extremely talented artists and it’s special to collaborate with them on these custom designs.”
Says Chase, “The appeal was that we’d get to work together on something we both cared about, something the agent said had never been done before.”
Another factor for Chase was the chance to follow in the footsteps of his idol: Alex Pardee, who was one of the artists featured in the Topps Project70 series.
Growing up in Cartersville, Georgia, the sum total of Chase’s athletic career was a few summers drawing in the dirt during Little League games, and he had even less interest (if possible) in his dad’s sport of basketball. Both Amanda, now a nurse practitioner, and the 6-foot-6 Jeremy Lawrence were both successful high school athletes. But after Chase was found lying down on the team bench and sleeping during a youth basketball game, his flummoxed parents happily relented: no more sports.
“I was a wild child, Trevor was the one who was always good at sports,” says Chase. “We knew he was going to get a full ride somewhere for something since he was in middle school. My whole family loves sports so much but, at the time, I couldn’t have cared less.”
Tall but rail-thin, Chase was more into drawing dragons, lizards and monsters, something he never thought could be his “thing” until he discovered Pardee, who pioneered a kind of colorful, creature-filled, pop surrealism — like Ralph Steadman meets “Stranger Things.”
“Alex Pardee is the reason I became an artist,” says Chase. “It was the coolest, weirdest stuff I had ever seen, it was edgy and disturbing, and when you’re a little angsty teenager, you think that’s so badass. But that led me to other artists and it opened up this whole new world for me.”
More importantly, as a ninth-grader, at a time when being overshadowed by his superstar sibling might have led to a lifetime of resentment or remoteness for Chase, Jeremy did something that offers a window into the secret behind their talented and tight-knit family. (Chase and Trevor also have a younger sister, Olivia. After getting his driver’s license, the first time Chase drove by himself was to take Trevor to the hospital to meet their little sister, a memory that still makes Amanda tear up.)
Without knowing exactly what he was getting into, Jeremy, a manager at a steel company in Georgia, agreed to drive to a seedy gallery in Atlanta so that Chase could meet Pardee, his version of Tom Brady.
“My dad doesn’t know anything about art and I know the whole time he was like, ‘this is so weird,’ but he did it for one reason: to support me,” says Chase, who attended college only after Jeremy encouraged him to study art. “I had so many questions for [Pardee]. I showed him my drawings and he asked if he could have one, so we traded drawings. I still have his at my parents’ house. So how this all worked out is beyond crazy. The connections to Trevor and Pardee, I mean, that’s just so much incentive.”
Chase and Brooke would need it all for the Topps project, with less than two months to create 20 original works. If Trevor was lacking any creative courage, however, it was seated directly behind him on Jan. 5 at the remote Heisman Trophy ceremony inside the Clemson football meeting room. Although Trevor finished second behind Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, Chase’s outfit — a chic tan suit with a wide-open green floral shirt, necklaces and a white carnation lapel pin — won the day on Twitter. In mid-January, Chase, Brooke and Trevor met up again in Clemson to discuss ideas, color palates and aesthetics for the card series.
“We were concerned when they were younger that Chase and Trevor wouldn’t be close because of the age difference and because they’re just so different,” says Amanda. “But they’re closer than they’ve ever been and that has really evolved in the last six years or so. It’s wonderful they’ve been able to merge their two worlds even more with this project.”
The first thing they did was pore over photos from Trevor’s Clemson career along with retro sports cards from the 1960s and 1970s. (Think: massive shoulder pads, spectacular mustaches and cheesy Heisman-like stiff-arm poses.)
Chase and Brooke, who met while studying art at Kennesaw State University, create together as one artist (taking turns with the canvass) and have developed a style Chase describes as impressionistic realism that is heavily influenced by Dutch artists from the Renaissance period. The approach typically leans more toward the ghastly and esoteric and is often infused with theological symbolism.
While the oeuvre is effective and moving, it’s not exactly a style that lends itself to football cards or, say, your typical Jacksonville Jaguars fan who has already seen their fair share of grotesque performance art on the field.
But after Trevor posed in different outfits for a series of reference photos and videos, Chase and Brooke found themselves inspired by the glowy colors and the authoritarian, outer-space pastiche in the pages of the “Watchmen” graphic novels. They were also drawn to psychedelic Jimi Hendrix-style concert posters and a layered, textured oil-painting approach to digital portraits.
The couple was a little overwhelmed at first, until they showed the folks at Topps the first three cards they produced, “and they were like, ‘Oh my God, you totally got this, just keep doing your thing,'” says Chase.
Trevor took a little more convincing, especially on the more art deco and nouveau-inspired cards, including one with him in shorts surrounded by wildflowers.
“We shared a lot of what we were doing with Trevor, but not everything,” says Brooke. “Sometimes when you share things that are a work in progress with people who are not artists it can be hard for them to see the vision. … But Chase kept trying to push him out of his comfort zone in a positive way, like, ‘Come on, you’re a rock star, you have to do this!’ Sometimes he was cool with it, and sometimes he was not.”
Because Brooke has more experience with the digital medium (and, Chase confesses, is probably the better artist) on the first 10 cards she concentrated on the portraits of Trevor while Chase did all the backgrounds. And then, following their process, they’d polish each other’s work. On the second 10 cards, they switched it around, with Chase taking the lead on the portraits. The night before the project was due, they took a deep breath and texted Trevor the entire collection. “We used our phone because he’s so focused on football, he’s literally not tech savvy enough to use computers very well,” says Chase.
After several minutes, Trevor texted his critique:
Duuuuude, these are amazing, I love these, you guys killed it!
“I was so relieved,” says Chase.
ALTHOUGH IT’S NOT quite on par with his Heisman Trophy ensemble, Chase sits on the big, open front porch of his new home near Williamston, South Carolina, with his hair in a bun. He sports boots, camo socks, a few necklaces, a leather horse bridle belt and a torn purple tie-dyed T-shirt featuring a Tarot card portrait of The Fool.
They’ve just moved into this house that once belonged to the town doctor, who treated patients in what is now the downstairs bedroom, which still has a small circular observation window in the middle of the door. There’s a natural spring and a weathered, two-story tobacco-leaf drying barn in back. The fact that the pipes under the house were insulated with what appears to be human hair freaks everyone out, except Chase, who, of course, thinks it’s absolutely awesome.
In a football world full of meatheads, screaming pundits and coaching platitudes, Chase is a breath of fresh air. On this afternoon he effortlessly bounces around to topics ranging from atheism to his work with the homeless in the Alphabet Streets area of Anderson, South Carolina, to Atari, Monet, dragons, the golden ratio of the holly blossoms next to the porch and even Chuck E. Cheese.
Just by having a character like Chase as an older brother and confidante, Trevor has been equipped with a franchise quarterback’s most important armor: thick skin and an utter indifference about the haters.
“We just don’t care what other people think,” says Chase. “I’ve just never given a crap about stuff like that. I’m not going to sacrifice my happiness and all the great things I can do with my life because I’m worried what someone else thinks.”
Last week Trevor created quite a frenzy when he dared to mention to Sports Illustrated that, ya know, there’s more to life than football or Super Bowl rings. A healthy and refreshing perspective that predictably sent most draft pundits into hysterics. But if you’re wondering whether Trevor has agonized over the reaction to those comments or any part of his unconventional path to the NFL — skipping the medical combine, not attending the draft in person, passing on most interview requests — think again.
Between the Topps project and Trevor’s wedding on April 10 on the South Carolina coast (where Chase was the best man), there’s been little time for Brooke and Chase to unpack. In the maze of moving chaos, Chase may have forgotten for the moment exactly where the family dogs are, but when asked, he knows the precise location of the paintings he’d save if the house caught on fire.
With the exception of the art studio upstairs, which is already packed with supplies and easels featuring the early stages of oil-painting landscapes, most of the rooms remain full of boxes. Many of them are packed with texts on Chase’s passion: the intersection of theology and philosophy, especially as it pertains to the original language and context of the scriptures and how it’s often misinterpreted and manipulated.
“We talk about this stuff all the time,” Chase says of he and Trevor. “That’s another reason we get along so well is that we have a common interest: We know there’s more and we want to know what it is and we value that search and that knowledge above everything.”
Four days before the wedding, the wide, red-brick tile porch, framed by pink azaleas and purple hanging wisteria, is alive with buzzing insects and chirping birds. And even though Chase is so new to this house — the local cable installer is inside hooking up the WiFi — when the topic turns to Trevor, Chase speaks in a way that makes it seem like he’s lived here in this spot his entire life.
No. 1 picks in the NFL draft, especially quarterbacks, remain a crapshoot at best. Despite all the experts and all the resources invested in scouting the most important position in sports, there’s still no magic formula that can predict how a college quarterback, even a 6-foot-6, 220-pound, quick-thinking field general like Trevor, will react to the speed, violence and impossible expectations of the NFL.
But certainly, if there’s a common denominator among those who survive on Sundays, it’s a strong group of family and friends who can provide unfiltered and unwavering support and perspective (i.e., truth) inside the warped, funhouse-mirror alternative reality of professional sports.
Listening to Chase, Trevor seems to have plenty of that.
Brooke describes them as a pair of humble hearts.
“The main difference is just vocation,” says Chase. “Other than that we are very similar, same sense of humor, same goofiness, same personality overall. He’s pretty creative, too, artistic even, and we’re both problem solvers and we’re both seekers. We are always seeking the truth no matter if it’s what we want to hear or don’t want to hear. And we disagree on a lot on things like faith and religion and dogma, but we agree on just as much if not more. But he’s young, so he’s still figuring things out.”
EVENTUALLY, CHASE CHECKS his phone and sees that an antique, marble-topped console he bought is ready to be picked up. There’s also interest from an art dealer about a solo exhibition in Texas this summer and another card collaboration with Brooke and Trevor, possibly on a series of NFTs. Chase and Brooke are booked with commissions for at least the next year.
Chase is still noodling with his best man’s speech, something attendees say will end up a “sweet and profound” lesson on creating balance and singularity in life and especially marriage (and perhaps, even an NFL franchise) in which, if you honor the other, or hurt the other, you’re also honoring, or hurting, yourself.
“This world is temporal and you can be on a mountain top one day and people will turn on you the next,” says Amanda. “As Trevor gets more notoriety he will need a true sense of self. And with all the press and hoopla, it’s nice for him to be able to just be himself with Chase, who really couldn’t care less that he’s a celebrity.”
Before he leaves to get the rental truck, Chase is asked to imagine a scenario a few years down the line where he and Brooke are at a gallery in New York full of their own acclaimed work and adoring fans, and Trevor, having just flown in after another Jags playoff game, is wandering around in relative anonymity, constantly being asked by the art crowd what exactly he does for a living.
The thought makes Chase roar with laughter as he steps off the porch.
“Oh man,” Chase says, “Trevor would absolutely love that.”
Ja’Wuan James considering grievance to recoup potential lost 2021 salary, source says
Former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James is strongly considering filing a grievance through the NFL Players Association for lost wages after he tore his Achilles tendon away from the team facility, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Saturday.
James, who was released Friday with a post-June 1 designation, could seek more than $10 million in salary for the 2021 season that the Broncos appear likely to void after they designated him with a non-football injury.
The injury has already been a flashpoint between the NFL and the NFLPA over the “non-football injury” designation, which means teams are not required to pay players their full base salaries if they were injured outside of team facilities.
The day after James was injured earlier this month, he was specifically named in a memo from the NFL’s management council to team executives and head coaches. In that memo it was outlined under the “Non-Football Injuries” designation that teams like the Broncos would have “no contractual obligation” to pay players like James who were injured away from the team facilities.
The memo also outlined why a player’s salary would be paid if the injury had been suffered during a workout at a team’s complex. The memo also said: “Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train at a non-NFL location.”
The NFLPA responded two days later in an email to players that said: “It was gutless to use a player’s serious injury as a scare tactic to get you to come running back to these workouts.” Free-agent safety and NFLPA executive board member Michael Thomas also told ESPN’s Dan Graziano this week that “all the players are watching” how James’ situation plays out.
The 28-year-old James suffered his season-ending injury earlier this month. On Friday, he posted on social media that his “surgery went well,” adding: “Appreciate everyone reaching out. Always remaining positive & striving to be better than yesterday.”
Broncos wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, whom Denver was trying to trade in recent days, also suffered a torn knee ligament in a workout away from the team’s complex, according to ESPN and multiple reports.
ESPN’s Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.
Saints rookie Nolan Cooney overcame cancer, then learned to punt with help from YouTube
METAIRIE, La. — It was Nolan Cooney‘s passion for sports that motivated him most when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs during his junior year of high school.
The New Orleans Saints‘ rookie punter was a three-sport standout at East Greenwich High in Rhode Island. He said he wasn’t scared when he got the diagnosis and trusted his doctors, but the only information he researched was stories of athletes like cyclist Lance Armstrong and third baseman Mike Lowell, both of whom successfully underwent treatment for testicular cancer. Cooney was thrilled when he got the chance to speak with Armstrong on the phone, and when New England Patriots cancer survivor Joe Andruzzi came to visit and let him wear his Super Bowl rings.
And sure enough, Cooney reached his goal of returning to the basketball court in time for the playoffs — just days after he finished his two months of chemotherapy treatments. The scene was triumphant, with the crowd chanting his name in the stands.
“We didn’t have to lift his spirits,” Cooney’s parents, Joseph and Janice, agreed while discussing the positive outlook their son has maintained. “Our spirits were lifted by him.”
But nobody in the family ever dreamed that Cooney might become a NFL punter seven years later, signing with the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse.
Because, well, Cooney had never punted before.
The three sports he played at the time were basketball, baseball and soccer.
“People say everything happens for a reason,” said Cooney, whose dad suggested he visit a local punting and kicking camp during those months of draining chemo treatments.
“Who knows what would’ve happened if I hadn’t really stumbled upon this during what would seem for a lot of people to be a tougher time [in my life]?” Cooney said. “But maybe it was the greatest thing to ever happen.”
— Nick Coit (@NCoitABC6) December 5, 2020
Cooney (6-foot-3, 202 pounds) always had a strong leg from his years as a soccer goalie, and he had a natural spin on his kicks that made him good at punting the ball when he messed around in the yard. But there was a local rule that prevented him from playing both soccer and football in the fall, and he chose soccer.
When Cooney got healthy, he started teaching himself how to punt by watching YouTube videos — as if his story isn’t remarkable enough.
“You can learn a lot from studying film of other punters,” Cooney explained, “and hopefully they’re willing to speak to things that work well for them.”
Cooney attended his first camp in the summer before his senior year of high school, where the instructors told him he showed real promise as a punter (and less as a place-kicker). Then he continued to attend camps, even though he went back to playing soccer in the fall.
Cooney had opportunities to play college baseball as a catcher at smaller schools. But he wanted to pursue punting, so he signed up for a postgraduate year at Bridgton Academy in Maine to actually play on a football team for the first time in 2015.
“He’s a special kid,” said Trevor Coston, a former NFL safety who served as a coach and counselor at Bridgton and became Cooney’s personal assistant when they would shovel snow off the field in the mornings to work on his punting and send tapes out to colleges.
“He’d be up there shoveling the pathway before I’d get there,” Coston said. “It wasn’t like a lot of schools were opening doors. He just kept knocking. And a person like him, if you know him, his story, his background, betting on himself with everything he’s gone through, it was pretty easy that he was gonna make it once he had the chance to show anyone what he was gonna do.”
Cooney was especially persistent with Syracuse, which was the only FBS school that wound up offering him a walk-on opportunity.
Not only was Syracuse his mom’s alma mater, but Cooney had also met former Syracuse and current New York Giants punter Riley Dixon at a camp. And he credited Dixon with passing on his information to some of the coaches and administrators. They sent him an email inviting him to walk on about three weeks before practices started in 2016.
“He basically was like an unrecruited walk-on that kind of just showed up at our door,” said former Syracuse special-teams coach Justin Lustig, who is now at Vanderbilt. “This kid’s unbelievable. One of my favorites I’ve ever coached. [His makeup] is just through the roof, man. Like every category. I haven’t been around a guy that works harder than Nolan.”
Lustig said Cooney started out fourth on the depth chart as a redshirt freshman and gradually worked his way up behind current Atlanta Falcons punter Sterling Hofrichter, while also serving as a holder. When Hofrichter got drafted in 2020, Syracuse offered Cooney a scholarship for his senior year. And he became a third-team All-ACC punter, averaging a school-record 44.8 yards per kick.
Cooney led all FBS punters in total punts (74) and yards (3,314), with 24 downed inside the 20 and only three touchbacks.
He also started a podcast last year featuring a variety of guests who talk about overcoming obstacles. The name of the podcast, fittingly for a punter and cancer survivor, is “Power Through.”
In New Orleans, Cooney will compete with Blake Gillikin, last year’s undrafted rookie, to replace longtime standout Thomas Morstead, who was released in a wave of salary-cap cuts this offseason.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Janice said of her son’s unlikely path to the NFL. “If only they let him play soccer and football, we might have known this a little earlier.”
Meanwhile, the rule that prevented players in East Greenwich from participating in both sports has since been changed. Joseph said some school officials referred to the switch as “the Nolan Cooney rule.”
Dolphins salivating at the speed Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller will bring – Miami Dolphins Blog
MIAMI — Brian Flores is eager to see opposing defensive coordinators sweat when they see the Miami Dolphins‘ offense in 2021.
Speed is the top skill set that makes defenses stress, and the Dolphins coach had a mischievous smirk when asked about the conflict his new dynamic playmakers — first-round pick Jaylen Waddle and free-agent signee William Fuller V — will create.
No Dolphins position group improved more than wide receiver this offseason, and it’s clear quarterback Tua Tagovailoa now has enough players to flourish as he enters an important Year 2. Honestly, none of Miami’s rebuild will matter as much if Tagovailoa doesn’t make the next step.
What makes the Dolphins’ additions of Waddle and Fuller so dangerous are the possibilities they provide to open up opportunities for the rest of the offense as well as themselves.
“If you’ve got guys who can run on the perimeter, if you load the box, there’s more opportunity for one-on-one matchups and opportunities downfield. Defenses have to make that decision when you have those types of players on the field,” Flores said. “If you don’t load the box and you play for those big plays, then there’s less people in the box and less people to block, and I think it really becomes kind of a numbers/math game.”
“When you have guys on the perimeter and guys who demand some attention — that kind of attention — then there could be more space. … It’s a chess game and obviously the run game and how you attack the run game, that’s part of it.”
That is Flores’ answer, by the way, to oft-asked questions about at the Dolphins’ failure to draft or sign a top-tier running back. He believes added playmaker speed at wide receiver and continued offensive line development will help the running game just as much, if not more than any upgrade in the backfield. The “chess game’ theory makes sense as it’s unlikely teams will put seven or eight men in the box to stop Myles Gaskin and the other backs, much like they did in 2020.
Speed changes everything. Fuller and Waddle might prove to be the NFL’s fastest starting receiver duo.
Fuller, previously with the Houston Texans, had the fourth fastest max speed time (21.56 mph) among wide receivers last season, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He was also one of 13 players who were timed with a max speed of more than 21.5 mph. Fuller, a first-round pick by the Texans in 2016, ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, tied for the ninth fastest official time among active NFL players.
And, guess what? Waddle might be even faster. The former Alabama wideout didn’t run the 40-yard dash this offseason as he recovered from a fractured ankle, but NFL teams received data that Waddle had the fastest GPS time of all college football players last season. Waddle was recorded running a 4.37 40-yard dash at a high school camp and videos circulated last offseason of him running neck-and-neck with Las Vegas Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III, who ran a 4.27 40 at the 2020 combine. When asked earlier this year, Waddle said he normally runs in the high 4.2s or low 4.3s.
One can only hope for a race this summer to officially decide the Dolphins’ fastest player.
Miami’s speedy duo hasn’t been on the field together yet, but their games seem to play off each other well. Fuller has established himself as one of the NFL’s best deep-ball wide receivers, challenging defenses vertically while Waddle’s best asset might be how explosive he is with the ball in his hands after the catch, threatening defenses horizontally and vertically.
The Dolphins have had their eyes on Waddle for the past couple of years. His skill set features a rare combination of elite speed, run-after-catch and return ability. That’s why he was the Dolphins’ pick at No. 6 overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Pre-draft comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs star wide receiver Tyreek Hill give the Dolphins something to dream about once Waddle hits his stride.
“I get a lot of comparisons to Tyreek, just because of my small size and being able to be a runner,” Waddle said. “But I want to be my own player and try to play the game that I play and try to do my own style and not try to emulate someone else’s style. I’m going to try to be the player that I always have and try to make plays for the team.”
If Waddle plays his style and Fuller his, this Dolphins’ offense in 2021 will force defenses into those exact tough chess decisions Flores keeps envisioning.
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