Most visitors at Williston High School’s gymnasium could barely hear their voices or thoughts through the jam-packed crowd at the 2021 Class 1A District 7 final. The game was tied at 54. There were less than 20 seconds remaining. The Red Devils chanted, “Defense! Defense!” harmoniously. The cheer filled the gym like the sounds of an orchestra in an opera house. But in this house, the Hornets would rule the court.
Senior Hawthorne guard Dre Lawrence was no ordinary visitor in this competitive environment. A year prior, he helped the Hornets win the first boys basketball state championship in over 30 years when he nailed two clutch free throws to seal the deal over Hilliard.
As the only returning starter from that title team, Lawrence, being no stranger to the big moment, took it upon himself to lead his team to victory again.
A Red Devils defender stood in front of eighth-grader C.J. Ingram as he held the ball behind the inbound line as he looked to connect with his teammate. The defender waved his hands franticly and jumped up and down – giving off the appearance of jumping jacks. He did all he could to intimidate Ingram. Ingram was still able to inbound the ball to his teammate Johnquavis Jones. Jones received the pass and immediately passed it to Lawrence.
Lawrence had 25 points in the game at that point. He took the ball past half-court. The crowd anxiously stood on their feet. The Red Devils defender re-enforced his grip. He wiped off the bottom of his shoes with his hands. He squatted down in a defensive position.
Lawrence forced the defender to the right before swiftly cutting back to the left. He created enough space, with help of his teammate. The Red Devil defender raised his hands to block the shot as Lawrence stepped back off one leg and released a shot as seconds ticked away.
The arena goes silent.
One could hear a pin drop.
The ball rattles in and through the net.
Williston called a timeout with barely enough time to come up with a miracle.
Half of the crowd jumped up in excitement, while the other half shrank in disbelief. Hornets head coach Greg Bowie pumps the air with his fist a couple of times. Lawrence races down to the other end of the court as his teammates storm after him in celebration.
Final: Hawthorne 56, Williston 54.
— Trey Johnson (@treyboogie5) February 13, 2021
Dre, 18, is not the first Lawrence boy to excel in sports at Hawthorne, but he is the first to bring home a state championship.
Lawrence’s older brother, Desmond, 22, played football and basketball at Hawthorne. Before graduating in 2016, he racked up 128 tackles and seven tackles for loss as a starting linebacker and team captain.
The middle Lawrence brother, Devin, 21, graduated from Hawthorne in 2018 after leading the football team to a 10-2 record with his 1,307 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged 16.2 points per game in his senior basketball season.
Devin is now entering his junior year at Monmouth College, which will play its season in the spring. Devin enters the year as the team’s starting running back after rushing for 824 yards and seven scores last year. While Devin is a natural at the position, his younger brother was hesitant to follow in his footsteps.
“Dre’s biggest issue was that he didn’t want to be compared to his brother Devin,” Bowie said. “He didn’t want to play running back. He just wanted to play wide receiver like the year before. But coming into this season, we didn’t have a running back.”
The coaches approached Lawrence with a proposition to fill the vacant spot, but it was more of a demand than an option.
“He didn’t have a choice,” Hawthorne athletic director and defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins said with a smirk.
In the end, Lawrence proved himself to be the perfect man for the job.
“We told him that for the team to be successful, this is what you got to do,” Bowie said. “We already had enough faster-receiving players, and because Dre put on about 15 pounds during quarantine, he had the perfect running back-type body.”
Dre says that he models his game after New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
“He’s my favorite running back,” Dre said. “He’s explosive, and he’s got huge thighs.”
In addition to taking over the offensive load, his bulking up over the offseason also helps out his team’s defense.
“Just going up against a back that big in practice prepares us for some of the other bigger backs we’ve faced lately,” Adkins said. “In practice, he always runs hard, so when we face these bigger running backs, it’s nothing new for our defense.”
With his new frame, Lawrence rushed for 984 yards and 14 touchdowns, leading the Hornets to the State Championship.
“I’ve always known he had the potential to play on the offensive side of the ball just by him being a natural-born athlete,” assistant football coach and assistant basketball coach C.J. Hawkins said. “When Dre’s number was called this year to be the premier back, I had no doubt in my mind that he could handle the job.”
Handle the job Lawrence did, despite doubts of his buy-in from others on the coaching staff.
“When this year started, we were talking about Dre being our feature running back,” Hawthorne assistant football and basketball coach Raymond Cue said. “I would never have guessed it. He had the potential, but with just his mindset, I never would have thought he would have bought in, and maybe it shows the maturity of becoming a senior and knowing that this is his last go around.”
As the season continued, the trust that the Hawthorne coaching staff has in their senior running back grew exponentially.
In the Class 1A Regional Final against Wildwood, Lawrence shouldered the load, rushing for a career-high 157 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries in a 14-8 win.
#4 Dre Lawrence has been a beast all night. This 4th down carry sealed the deal here in Wildwood. Hawthorne wins 14-8, and will move on to play Madison County at home next week. @TriCountyFB @FlaHSFootball @PrepRedzoneFL @ThePrepZone https://t.co/cKu1BcPDUM pic.twitter.com/egX0u3fDmT
— Tim Harding (@timdadof7) November 28, 2020
“That was pretty much the game plan going into it,” Bowie said. “I told him, ‘We’re going to have to ride you. We want to gash them right up the middle. We want three, four, or five yards every play.’ We had two certain situations where it was 4th and 1, and I looked at Coach Adkins and he gave me the nod to go for it. I told Dre to just fall forward, and he was able to pick up the first each time, which helped put the game away.”
The Wildwood game was Lawrence’s second consecutive playoff game in which he piled up 30 carries for over 100 yards, as he rushed for 124 yards in a 12-7 win over Fort Meade.
“He’s had some huge playoff games where we had to run the ball, where the ball might be wet, and I’m talking over 30 carries,” head football coach Cornelius Ingram said. “That’s a lot for any running back. He’s taken a lot of pressure off of our younger quarterback.”
Lawrence excelled at his new position in 2020, but he was perhaps an even more dominant force on the defensive side of the football in his junior year.
In 2019, Lawrence was named All-State at safety after racking up 38 tackles and a whopping five interceptions.
— Chase Anschultz (@ChaseAnschultz) November 2, 2019
“That’s Hawthorne for you,” Cue said. “We try to produce athletes who can do everything. Dre’s been a receiver, quarterback, linebacker, safety and corner. He did it all: everything but play on the line. He ain’t blocking nobody.”
Dre may not be able to block a 250-pound defensive lineman, but that doesn’t mean he is not a physically tough player.
“There were at least 15 of us in the backyard playing a competitive game of tackle football,” Devin said. “Things were heated and bloody, and Dre was 10 years old playing with a bunch of older kids. And that’s where I saw his first signs of growth. He started making tough catches and showing everyone he was serious.”
Growing up as the youngest Lawrence boy, Dre had to learn a tough lesson while playing with his brothers.
“He would come in crying because they wouldn’t let him get the rebound or something,” Dre’s mother, Patricia, said. “I went out fussing at the other two, but I remember my husband telling me not to and that Dre’s got to learn to fend for himself. So, after a while, Dre learned not to cry about it and to just fight for it.”
Despite the early lessons learned, it has not been an easy road to where Dre is now.
“Last year, he wanted to quit football,” Patricia said. “He had an injury, and he was used on defense more when he wanted to play on offense more. But I told him we Lawrences don’t start something and not finish it. So, I told him to finish that year, and if he truly don’t want to play football, then don’t next year. But he finished, had five interceptions and this year has obviously went well.”
As Dre decided to stick with it, he has become a respected team leader in the locker room.
“He’s one of those veteran guys who’s been in the program for a while because, you know, here at Hawthorne, you can play early,” Ingram said. “So, I’m just happy for him and his success. All the guys look up to him.”
Lawrence’s teammates gravitate to his reserved demeanor.
“When his teammates listen to him, they are locked into what he says,” Ingram said. “And they try to figure out how to improve based on Dre’s teachings. He got a presence about himself that a lot of people don’t have. You can’t teach some things. You either have it or you just don’t, so he’ll be missed a lot in the locker room.”
Dre’s unique laid-back personality makes it so he’s able to be cool with anybody.
“He has this presence about himself in the locker room,” Ingram said. “Even with him being soft-spoken, a lot of guys like being around him. He can talk to anyone. He’s not super aggressive when he’s helping teammates or telling teammates how to do certain things.”
His teammates can back that up.
“Playing alongside Dre was like playing alongside everyone else at Hawthorne – it’s a brotherhood,” Dre’s teammate on the state champion basketball team Torey Buie said. “As you know, all brothers argue, but they still come together at the end of the day for bigger goals, which Dre was able to do.”
During Dre’s junior year, he was the second-leading scorer on his varsity basketball team, averaging 8 points per game. There was one game in particular that Lawrence played a key role when the team needed him most.
“He stepped up in the biggest game of the year vs. Wildwood, scoring 15 points in a half,” Buie said. “I expect him to have a big year this upcoming season.”
Hawthorne Hornets #4 Dre Lawrence (@agentd_4) drains a 3 pointer with 3 seconds left before halftime putting the Hornets up by 25
Hornets 40 Wildcats 15
— Syltavius Kelley (@tavius21) February 26, 2020
Dre finished the game with 18 points helping lead his team to the FHSAA Final Four basketball tournament in Lakeland, FL. As the only returning starter from his 2020 boys basketball 1A state title team, Dre took on a larger role in 2021.
“This year, there are high expectations for him,” Bowie said before the season. “It will be a different type of team this year, but I think Dre is up for the challenge, but he knows the workload that will be placed on him, and I think he will embrace it with open arms.”
Even returning to a team full of mostly new faces, one thing is still certain: Dre will always do what’s best for the team.
“He will always have your back for sure,” Buie said. “You never have to worry about Dre leaving you hanging.”
Dre never leaves the team hanging entertainment-wise either.
“He’s our music guy,” Ingram said. “He always has the playlists before we leave the school to head off to a game for warmups.”
Dre’s love for music was instilled in him from an early age.
“Dre’s a drummer at our church,” Patricia said. “He learned that early on, and it was natural for him. And he just took over that role. He’d still be doing it now if not for COVID and doing things on Zoom.”
In addition to his love for music, Dre always has an affinity for video games.
“Obviously, I love playing (NBA) 2K and Call of Duty,” Dre said. “I’ll give you that work.”
Patricia said that sometimes she would have to get on her kids for playing games too much, but during quarantine, it was a way to keep them connected online with their friends. This hobby has also formed into a career goal, as he wishes to major in game design in college.
“Not only is Dre a great athlete, but he’s also an even better student,” Hawkins said. “He maintains a 3.2 GPA.”
Dre’s leadership skill goes far beyond expectations.
“He goes about his job and attacks everything with a purpose, whether it’s football, basketball or academics,” Adkins said. “Dre is an overall good kid.”
Lawrence has been described as a very respectful young man always saying yes sir and no sir. He has never taken anything personal from any of the coaches and been a humble guy. However, Lawrence said that the feeling of being a state champion is something he will never forget.
“It’s something I can hold on to for the rest of my life,” Lawrence said. “If I have kids, I can tell them what I did back in the day and bring them to the gym. And they can see my face on the wall and see that I’ll always have a place at Hawthorne.”