Lawrence setting his goals even higher at N. Texas

Ron Howell
Sports Editor

As a high schooler, Michael Lawrence quickly became a big-time player and an all-state receiver for Sweetwater on the football field in his final two years, catching 73 balls for 1,154 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year.
The transition to Division I college football has been just as smooth. As a sophomore, Lawrence had 62 catches for 819 yards and four touchdowns last year at North Texas, leading the team in the first two categories in a 9-5 season that included its first-ever Conference USA West Division title with a 7-1 record. The Mean Green’s season culminated in mid-December with a trip to the New Orleans Bowl.
Lawrence also received all-conference honorable mention for his breakout year. He finished with 13 more catches than North Texas’ Jalen Guyton, the team’s second-leading receiver. It was quite a jump for the 5-10, 186-pounder, who as freshman — and walk-on — had just one catch for 16 yards in seven games.
With the start of the 2018 season less than two months away, Lawrence — now on scholarship entering his junior year — has his sights on putting up even bigger numbers. And with North Texas returning nine offensive and eight defensive starters — including Lawrence, Guyton and record-setting quarterback Mason Fine — the excitement in Denton is as high as it has been in several years.
“For yourself you want to set the bar high and out-do what you did last year,” said Lawrence. “Plus we have a lot of guys returning. I think we’ll have a great season.
“My freshman year I didn’t really know what to expect and had a senior ahead of me. But I worked as hard I could and came in with the mindset to do better my sophomore year. I felt it was my time, but it’s something that you have to be patient about. Everyone is bigger and faster at this level. You can’t take plays off.”
North Texas has a pass-friendly spread attack with similar features to what Lawrence learned at Sweetwater under former offensive coordinator Zac Harrell, whose brother Graham has the same position at North Texas.
That family connection helped convince Lawrence to go to Denton as a Division I walk-on after failing to receive any scholarship offers above the Division III level, though he was given a chance to be a preferred walk-on at SMU.
Lawrence’s collegiate career began the same time that Graham Harrell became offensive coordinator at North Texas. Also in 2016, Seth Littrell — considered by many to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football and a former assistant to Mike Leach at Texas Tech — took over as the Mean Green’s head football coach.
Lawrence said he knew it would be an uphill battle to gain a scholarship at UNT, but it’s a decision he doesn’t regret. “I had to prove myself and make the coaches gain my trust,” he said. “You’ve just got to be one of those kids who works hard, even in the weight room.”
Watching film of opponents has also helped Lawrence learn the defensive setups and coverages he will face each week. “That’s a huge thing,” he said.
The hard work begins in earnest again starting with fall camp on Aug. 2, a month before the season opener against SMU on Sept. 1 in Denton.
“I’m pretty pumped about this year,” Lawrence said.
“Our chemistry on the offensive side is good and it’s pretty cool to see the way we’ve come together.
The North Texas football program has made some significant strides in the past two years under Littrell after just one win the season before he arrived. It made bowl trips in both 2016 and 2017, which has led to increased attendances at home games. But by far the biggest crowd Lawrence has played in front of so far came at Iowa, where 65,668 fans showed up for the third week of the 2017 campaign.
Still, Lawrence said playing at Mustang Bowl will always be an unforgettable experience.
“There’s nothing like walking down those steps into the stadium. It’s been there forever and (Sweetwater has) all that tradition,” he said.
“It’s something I’ll tell my kids and grandkids about.”

Michael Lawrence is pictured making a catch for North Texas during the 2017 season.
Courtesy Photo