A chance to shine is what T.J Lawrence has been asking for since graduating from Kathleen High School.
Five games into his inaugural season at Florida A&M University and Lawrence is shining brighter than in three years at his former university.
The wide receiver and Lakeland native gave the University of Florida a three-year chance and ultimately decided the Gators were not the best fit.
“I guess I wasn’t happy,” Lawrence said. “I wanted to leave a year earlier, but I said I’d stick it out another year.”
Lawrence’s three years with the Gators were forgettable – he played in two games, against Troy and Charleston Southern, and did not catch a pass.
“I had to make the decision to leave because I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to,” he said.
Fast-forward to 2010 and Lawrence has already made his mark as a top target, despite Florida A&M’s offensive struggles.
Lawrence leads all Florida A&M receivers with 11 receptions for 166 yards.
The 22-yard reception ended up being the difference in the 17-14 game.
“I’m definitely being utilized how I want to be utilized,” Lawrence said. “The coaches told me when I called them on the phone how they wanted to use me.”
Head coach Joe Taylor said bringing Lawrence into a more prominent role in the offense is a matter of time. Lawrence’s role will depend solely on his performance on the field.
“The objective each week is to have a balance,” Taylor said in a press conference Tuesday. “Whoever’s hot will be the one to keep going in the game.”
Off the field, Lawrence has used his Lakeland roots to bond with his new teammates.
He and fellow Kathleen High graduate Adrian Smith have made it their business to improve the receiving corps outside of practice.
“Every Thursday night I have all the receivers and the quarterbacks come to my house,” Lawrence said. “We look over film for about two hours and eat pizzas and stuff like that.”
Fellow receiver Brian Tymes said the sense of camaraderie between the offense leads to on-field success, even when times are tough.
Lawrence’s relationship with first-year starting quarterback Martin Ukpai also quickly evolved into a friendship.
“He’s a clown once you get to know him,” Lawrence said. “He’s real goofy. When I first met him he was quiet and I looked at him like, ‘He plays quarterback?'”
Lawrence quickly gained Ukpai’s trust during the shutout against the University of Miami. He became Ukpai’s favorite target, leading FAMU receivers with 42 yards during that game.
“When I saw him play and run around and throw the ball around I was like, ‘Ok… yeah he really does play,'” Lawrence said.
Lawrence still has half the season to make a lasting impression on Florida A&M’s campus. He said his experiences with the school are making him a better man and football player.
“Take care of your business everywhere,” he said. “On and off the field.”