Oh Boy, were the doubters and the naysayers wrong about this New Mexico-bound star shown with his quarterback coach and mentor, and NFA Director of Player Development Will Hewlett
JaJuan Lawson of Casa Grande (Petaluma, Calif.) has always been a quarterback and always wanted to be a quarterback from the time he began playing football at nine-years old.
In order to understand where Lawson is going, and that’s to New Mexico as a quarterback, means we have to look first at his high school and then his early career.
While the community of Petaluma (40-miles north of San Francisco) is very progressive and somewhat liberal politically, it’s an old-time ranching and farming town of around 60,000, and now also has many vineyards in its location at the entrance to the Sonoma County Wine Country.
It used to be the chicken capitol of the world, the town’s biggest event is still Butter and Egg Days, and at one time it was even home to the World Wrist Wrestling Championships.
While the Casa Grande campus serves the east side of town, which is newer and more modern suburban in nature, it still has had a small number of African-American student-athletes that have starred as Gauchos in comparison with an urban area or a suburb closer to an urban area.
One of the exceptions to that were JaJuan’s parents Marcell and Shayna Lawson. Marcell, a plumber and also the Casa Grande offensive coordinator, was a running back for the Gauchos and also still holds the school record of 10.6 for the 100-dash. Shayna, an accountant, played softball.
When JaJuan took over as the starter in 2011 he was following Nick Sherry, a 6-foot-5, 222-pound prototypical pocket passer now at Nevada Las Vegas that had led the team to the semifinals of the California Interscholastic Federation North Coast Section Division II playoffs.
Lawson was 6-foot, 185-pounds, and like his dad was known for his athleticism and prowess in track.
Not only that, but not only had Casa Grande never had an African-American quarterback, there had never been one that was a D1 prospect in the Redwood Empire area of the North Coast Section. That’s a 400-mile stretch covering everything north of San Francisco to the Oregon border.
The pundits, prognosticators and self-proclaimed experts were way off
The chit-chat started right away but JaJuan and his coaches and parents were prepared for the naysayers.
“A lot of people stereotyped JaJuan and they didn’t know he came from a family that was from Petaluma,” Casa Grande head coach Trent Herzog told NFA Nation. “They said he’s just an athlete, he’s not tall enough, not accurate enough, but he kept working with Will (NFA Director of Player Development Will Hewlett) and he got better each year.”
So much better that this past season he led Casa Grande to a 13-1 record and the North Coast Section Division II title game they lost in a hard fought 41-28 defeat to Miramonte of Orinda.
Along the way Lawson passed for 2,203 yards with 23 touchdowns and only two interceptions for a 133 QB rating. He also rushed for 1,102 yards and 13 TDs with a 10.77 yard average per carry. JaJuan also had 38 tackles and two interceptions as a safety on defense.
For his three-year career at Casa Grande, that included no worse than a quarterfinal playoff appearance, the now 6-foot-1, 195-pound Lawson threw for 6,277 yards and 62 TDs with 19 interceptions. He also rushed for 2,189 yards and 30 scores. The 92 total TDs makes that list in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Lists.
Still, the pundits, prognosticators and self-proclaimed experts saw his not signing early at signal-caller as an indication he might not have the right stuff to play quarterback at a major college. Word circulated in the chat rooms that a lot of colleges wanted him because of his fierce hitting on defense.
Oh Boy, were they wrong!
“I didn’t think we had a chance to get him,” New Mexico head coach Bob Davie told NFA Nation.
“I remember the first time we watched him last spring before his senior season, we felt he was a fit for where we are going with our unique program. At the quarterback position in particular it has to be a perfect fit and JaJuan is just that,” said Davie, who just completed his second season at the Lobos helm.
“Obviously his athletic ability and willingness to run the ball jumps out at you,” continued Davie. “But after we got past the physical stuff and once we got to know him, it was his personality and leadership that was what we really liked and makes him a unique kid.”
And what about the doubters Coach Davie?
“Maybe others did but we never even thought of him as anything other than a quarterback. As the (recruiting) process went on I think he started to feel as connected to us as we felt with him.”
It turns out Davie was correct.
When Davie says he originally thought they didn’t have a chance to get Lawson, his concerns actually lasted right to the end. Despite him telling Davie he was committed prior to signing day on Feb. 5, JaJuan decided to do it his way.
With Herzog’s cell phone ringing off the hook with colleges trying to get Lawson to flip, JaJuan had not yet arrived by 8:10 for the 8 a.m. signing ceremony at Casa Grande with teammate and Cal-bound running back John Porchivina.
It turned out the Lawson’s hadn’t faxed the signed letter to Davie.
“I had committed to my decision and told Coach Davie in early January but I had my own process and made a decision to wait until signing day,” Lawson said.
JaJuan had a process but he didn’t have a fax machine at home and had to do it at school. Hence his late arrival to the classroom where the ceremony was held.
“New Mexico was a little worried and called my dad at 7:55 to ask if I was still signing. Everything was signed. We just don’t have a fax.”
Time to go back in time
What the naysayers and doubters didn’t know about was what Herzog eluded to, Lawson’s secret weapon, his quarterback coach Will Hewlett.
Hewlett has been such a dedicated mentor to Lawson the last four-plus years that he got up at 5 a.m. and drove 100-miles each way in commute traffic to join well-wishers at the signing.
They jumped all over it
“When I first saw JaJuan in sixth grade I never questioned from day one that he had the potential to be a D1 quarterback,” said Herzog. “I knew his family, he came to our camps, and he had the god-gifted talents. He just needed to work on mechanics and change his delivery from a Bernie Kosar sideways release – and that’s what Will taught him.”
Prior to finding Hewlett but knowing his son had the right stuff Marcell began to do his homework.
“My dad did a lot of research and looked at a lot of different quarterback coaches,” JaJuan said. “We had heard about Will and when he moved out here we jumped all over it.”
A rough start
Two years after Herzog saw him as a sixth-grader Lawson began working with Hewlett at Monte Vista High in nearby Danville, where Hewlett was working out the kids prior to opening the state-of-the-art The Range facility in Livermore, CA.
“In the beginning the first couple of sessions were pretty rough,” remarked JaJuan. “He was teaching something totally different, mechanics, and for years I just threw the football.”
Now, almost five years down the road, and with 60-70 sessions with Hewlett and all the Northern California NFA Camps under his belt, Lawson is ready for New Mexico and its run and gun offense.
“After coming down the road with Will these past few years you can see how the ball comes off now and then. It all comes together and makes sense about what he’s teaching.”
No doubts from Hewlett
It might seem odd, but as many times as the two worked together, and the 2-3 games a season Hewlett attended (particularly when Casa Grande played league rival Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman and its Hewlett QB prodigy Keaton Dunsford) Lawson’s mentor and QB coach had no idea there were doubters and naysayers about JaJuan’s prospects as a D1 quarterback.
“I never knew about the pressures,” Hewlett remarked. “He never said a word and never showed it, and that’s a lot about what makes him an amazing quarterback.”
“Not only that, but even if I had heard that kind of stuff, although I may listen I usually ignore those things. I’m very confident in my opinion of what I see. It took me years to trust it,” Hewlett said and then continued.
“I look at every kid individually. If they want to put the work in why put limitations on background and demographics. That means nothing to me. When I identify someone as being talented at quarterback I’m going to go with what I see. With respect to JaJuan I didn’t realize how athletic he was and what a stud he is when I first started with him.”
Steady progression and attitude has led to success
“For a two-sport athlete that has never had a season off JaJuan’s focus on football has been very steady and he’s put in the work to prove it,” Hewlett said.
“Also, when you meet JaJuan and get to know him you’d never guess he’s had the kind of success he’s had by how he presents himself. He’s a humble young man.”
What’s JaJuan doing until summer?
Running track and keeping up his grades.
There were some that thought he might give up track this season but those people don’t know JaJuan. Besides, he wants to get a 10.9 personal best 100 closer to the 10.6 of Marcell.
“I’m a two-sport athlete so I’m never going to stop running. My dad’s school record was a 10.6 so we’ll see how low that 10.9 goes this year,” said the 3.5 GPA student-athlete that’s worked hard to get his grades up.
Is there something to prove at the next level and why New Mexico?
“Oooh yes,” said JaJuan slowly and emphatically, and looking upward with a sly grin like he really has something to show when asked about the doubters.
“I have a ton to prove, continued Lawson, who plans on majoring in business management at New Mexico. “People can say what they want, but I’ve seen Russell Wilson win a Super Bowl and I know where I want to go. I believe in New Mexico and what the coaches there are doing. I feel like we’re going to be playing for some conference championships real soon.”
So does Davie, Herzog and Hewlett, and maybe even some of those that still have doubts.
How can anyone deny JaJuan Lawson a path to success after all the hard work he’s put in and the dedication he’s shown?
There’s really no doubt about that answer.
Lawson signing his letter of intent on Feb. 5 at Casa Grande High School