Before the NFL draft ends, teams are scrambling. That’s when everyone is signing undrafted free agents, hoping to lure them with tales of great finds and signing bonuses that mostly total less than $10,000.
And inevitably, a handful exit training camp with jobs. Sometimes, those same players have good stories. I’ll go out on a limb and pick one player who could fit both descriptions.
Ever heard the name Alonzo Lawrence?
Don’t blame yourself if you haven’t. Few outside Mississippi or Alabama have. A star on last year’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College team, Lawrence is hoping to be one of the rare players to make the jump straight from junior college to the NFL. And he has the talent to do it.
Lawrence said he signed with the Lions, and his most recent coach Steve Campbell told me the same thing (the Lions would not confirm the signing).
“I think they got ‘em a great NFL player, I can see him being a Pro Bowler,” Campbell told me from his office at MGCCC. “I think they signed a difference-maker. It would shock and amaze me if he’s not up there for a number of years.“
Why is this so interesting to me? Because players almost never go from JUCO to the NFL, and Campbell couldn’t think of a recent example. I’m so intrigued. And stories like Lawrence’s are really what the undrafted free-agent signing period is all about. So, who is this guy?
A 6-foot-2, 218-pound cornerback, Lawrence excels in man-to-man coverage. Campbell said he’s a cornerback for a Cover-2 team (the Lions play Cover-2 sometimes), but he could be a safety in another scheme. He loves to tackle. Make no mistake, Lawrence is a sick, sick athlete. (YouTube him.) He first became a hot commodity in the South when he shut down Julio Jones in the 2007 Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game, holding Jones to zero catches. Yup, that’ll get people to notice.
A blue-chip prospect out of George County (Miss.) High, he committed to Alabama, a recruiting coup. But he never made it on the field, bounced around to Southern Miss, leaving there, and wound up at MGCCC. In two years, he has become a star in the fertile Mississippi recruiting ground. While Lawrence was a first-team JUCO All-American and the conference’s best defensive back, an SEC school wasn’t in his future. Oh, and he’s far from the only player the school has headed to the NFL.
Terrence Cody, now with the Ravens, played there. So did Vick Ballard, the future Mississippi St. RB who is a Colts draft pick. So did 49ers CB Tramaine Brock. In fact, six guys from MGCCC’s 2009 team are headed to the NFL, eight guys from last year’s team signed to the NFL, six guys off the 2009 team, and so on. That’s why scouts are always around, and Campbell routinely fields calls on his former players.
Rare is a time when a player makes the leap directly.
“But Alonzo is a great talent,” Campbell said. “He’s of the same talent/caliber if not even more so than guys we’ve had gone to MSU or Bama or on to NFL. He’s a high-SEC caliber talent.”
Perhaps college wasn’t for him, as those close to Lawrence say. Those who know Lawrence say he is a football student, though, which Campbell confirmed.
“He’ll spent all the time in the world studying film and training and all that stuff is very important to him,” Campbell said. “He loves playing the game. He’s four years out. So, clock-wise it made sense for him to try to make that jump.“
After two years at JUCO, four years after he was originally a college prospect, he had eyes on heading to the Canadian Football League. Had he not signed a contract, Lawrence likely would’ve ended up at a Division-II school. Instead, the Lions took the leap. Now, it’ll be interesting to see whether Lawrence can go from JUCO to the NFL. Campbell explained what kind of player he is.
“Alonzo is built like a big, physical safety,” Campbell said. “But he’s got hips and the coverage ability of a corner. I could see him playing corner for some cover-2 teams and he does fine in man coverage. Or, I could see somebody just putting him at safety and him doing really well there, because he will tackle, he’s physical and he does have coverage skills. I’m not sure he’s Devin Hester, few are, but he can catch the ball and get it back up field for you (on special teams). I really see him being a factor.”
An intriguing prospect for the Lions…