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November 2, 2012
MILTON, Ga. -- When Carl Lawson committed to Auburn on March 24, he never thought the Tigers' program would be in chaos less than seven months later.
Lawson, a five-star talent ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's best weakside defensive end, couldn't have foreseen that his recruiting could be put in a state of upheaval just more than two months before National Signing Day.
However, as Lawson prepares to help his Milton High School team face Cherokee tonight, the staff he committed to on the Plains is under fire and there's no shortage of potential suitors lining up to court him in the event he re-opens the race for his coveted signature.
"It's been very disappointing, but at the same time, you want your team to be at a higher standard, and this is not even close," Lawson said of Auburn, which enters Saturday's game against New Mexico State 1-7 overall and 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference. "Anytime anybody loses a game, it's devastating, so you know how I feel about it."
The Tigers' disastrous season has prompted widespread speculation that Auburn coach Gene Chizik and his staff won't be on the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium next fall. Lawson, a 6-foot-2, 253-pounder ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 4 overall prospect, said Thursday he didn't commit just because of the current staff.
"There were a lot of different factors that went into it. It was collectively, as a whole, the best place at the time," Lawson said, adding that while he stays in touch with the embattled Auburn staff, he does not focus on the storyline.
"I have so much to do right here," Lawson said.
Primarily, Lawson is focused on his senior season and his individual game.
"Right now, I'm just focused on what's here," Lawson said. "This is the best season I've ever had. I think I'm going to set a sack record if I continue, and we're going to probably head deep into the playoffs. It's the best season I've ever had, winning wise, I want to be better.
[Barber inspired, motivated by stricken coach]
"Last year, it was my first year playing varsity, and it's not that it was hard adjusting to the speed of the game or anything. It was just reading stuff. This year, I can see everything so much more clearly. I wasn't even playing off technique last year. It was just speed and power and that stuff."
Lawson is a film junkie, watching film of fellow high school standouts, college stars and professionals.
"I watch (South Carolina's Jadeveon) Clowney," Lawson said. "I watch (Texas') Alex Okafor . I watch (Auburn's) Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford. I try to take a little bit from everybody and I try to implement that into my game.
"This is looking too far into it, but I know if I were ever drafted as a stand-up linebacker, I can cover," Lawson continued, adding that he anticipates playing at the college level at 265 pounds or so. "I work on that, too. At Auburn, defensive ends have to drop into coverage. At any other school, I feel I could fit into anything."
Lawson said he continues to hear from Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, USC, Washington, UCLA, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Clemson, "just a plethora of people. It's hard to name them all." He said he's not sure whether he'll take official visits over the next two months.
"I might," Lawson said. "I might not. I don't know. I've got everything set up at Auburn right now. I don't know."
Lawson's teammate at Milton, running back Peyton Barber, is committed to Ole Miss. When Barber gets a chance, he bends Lawson's ear toward Oxford.
"I've been on him hard about Ole Miss," Barber said. "He was telling me that if anything happened to Coach Chizik, he would definitely consider Ole Miss."
For his part, Lawson refused Thursday to discuss hypothetical situations. However, he's listened to Barber and he took an unofficial visit to Ole Miss during the summer.
"That's a great program," Lawson said. "Coach (Hugh) Freeze is a players' coach. It's a great staff. I like (defensive line) Coach (Chris) Kiffin a lot. It's a real good staff."