The huddle and the offense now belong to Dwayne Lawson, because of graduation and his boundless talent.
At practice Monday afternoon, the 6-foot-5 junior quarterback stood nearly half a head taller than his teammates at Hillsborough, a fitting sight given his figurative and literal stature among peers.
“In my estimation, he’s the best quarterback in the state,” said Terriers coach Earl Garcia, a 40-year veteran of the game who isn’t prone to exaggeration. “I’ll put him up against anyone.”
Lawson is one of only two starters — the other is senior offensive tackle Frank Carter — to return to a team that went 9-2 and won a share of the District 6A-8 title last fall.
As a sophomore, Lawson didn’t start delivering on his substantial promise until late in his first year as a starter. He totaled nearly 200 yards of offense in four of the Terriers’ final five games, including 298 and two touchdowns in a playoff-opening win over Osceola.
After a year learning the ropes and earning the respect of since-departed upperclassmen, Lawson will shoulder the burden of leading one of the youngest teams Garcia — one of the deans of Hillsborough County football — has coached on Central Avenue.
“Obviously, I expect more of myself because we’ve lost 26 seniors,” Lawson said. “I’m holding myself accountable for my own play.”
Indeed, the Terriers will need a lot more from Lawson — and many of their inexperienced and untested players — to approach their recent success: 30-5 over the past three years.
Hillsborough must replace 68 percent of its rushing offense from last season, 83 percent of the receptions and 87 percent of the receiving yards. And it was clear Monday, with Lawson at the helm, the Terriers will lean heavily on his small forward-like frame.
“In every aspect he’s a leader,” Garcia said. “Like every great player, Dwayne enjoys the process. He’s a pleasure to coach.”
Speaking of pleasure, Garcia wore a broad smile and a camouflage-themed straw hat to yet another first day of football season.
Once he arrived at the parking lot where Hillsborough held its walkthrough, Garcia immediately shooed his players out of the shade and into the sun for their first set of instructions, telling them “our sideline is over here.”
Later, while informing players the team still needs a long snapper, he noted that a former Terriers star had spent two stints on the Dallas Cowboys at that position. “You can make a nice living throwing the ball between your legs, guys.”
Another familiar face at practice Monday was Jeremiah Green, former Terriers football star, national triple-jump champion and current freshman at Alabama. Green, who has spent the past month working out and going through summer school in Tuscaloosa, admitted he “missed being out there. My football career is over.”
But he thinks it’s just starting for Lawson, whom he called “a star.”
“He might be the biggest star to come out of Hillsborough in the past 10 years or so,” Green said. “Even last year, he was ready to be a leader.”