Hope has a name in Jacksonville: Trevor Lawrence

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Jaguars factoid: All prospective draft choices were given private phone numbers for draft weekend, so teams could contact them directly without worry about cell phone issues. When it came time to call Trevor Lawrence, three calls to his private number went straight to voice mail. Finally, coach Urban Meyer picked up his cell and called Lawrence’s cell as the time ticked away on the draft clock. “Hey coach, I was getting nervous here,” Lawrence said. “Glad you called.”

JACKSONVILLE, 11 a.m. Friday — This is what draft weekend is all about: hope. Inside the wood-paneled stadium office of owner Shad Khan, you could feel it. In 30 minutes, Khan would meet his new franchise quarterback for the first time, and forget the fact that Khan, 70, is worth something like $8 billion. Trevor Lawrence is coming! We’re not going to be crappy anymore! The man was excited.

“It’s like an elusive dream,” Khan said. “We thought two-and-a-half years ago we’d turned the corner. We were the darlings . . . Then, after the misery of last season, I think, ‘Oh my God, this is almost too good to believe.’ How the gods of football smiled on us. We got not only the first pick in the draft, we got the first pick of coaches.”

The morning Florida Times-Union showed what northeast Florida felt 15 hours earlier—four teen boys, all giddy, at the team’s draft party on the field the previous night, exulting as Roger Goodell announced the Lawrence pick on the video board. That’s what 1-15 buys these days in the NFL, a giddy draft party with Lawrence about to pull up in a limo and meet his new team. When Lawrence arrived by the big jaguar in front of the stadium, it was Khan who opened the door and said, “Welcome to Jacksonville. I’m Shad.”

An exuberant class of third-graders with welcoming signs enveloped the 6-foot-6 Lawrence, with his flowing blond mane, and his wife Marissa. “Is your hair real?” one boy said. (It’s real, and it’s spectacular.) Another said, “Will you pay for our food?”

“Super cool,” said Lawrence, who knows what to say and what image to project. Neither seems out of character. “The kids were awesome.”

Jacksonville seems a good fit for Lawrence, with veteran pro coaches Darrell Bevell (offensive coordinator) and Brian Schottenheimer (passing game coordinator) the most hands-on coaches with him. They are vets who’ve worked with different style quarterbacks—Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford most recently—and because they’ve known for some time that Lawrence would be their pick, they’ve been able to feed him lots of information and plays.

The draft was good to Lawrence too. The Jags’ second pick was explosive back Travis Etienne, who played 40 games alongside Lawrence in the Clemson backfield over the last three years and caught 85 passes over the last two years. “That was a great pick for me, because we’ve gotten to know each other so well as players and friends,” Lawrence said.

“With Travis,” Meyer said, “I expect instant impact. He’s a slash . . . he has excellent hands, and he’ll be dual-trained [as a back and receiver].”

Jacksonville exited the draft with a need still at tight end, with one of Meyer’s old recruits at Ohio State, Luke Farrell, picked to supplement Tyler Eifert; Meyer sounded post-draft like he wished they’d gotten more of an offensive threat there. But they look capable at receiver, with free-agent Marvin Jones added to supplement D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr.

I spent a few minutes with Lawrence. He said all the right things, the same way he’s been in Zoom meetings with coaches and even Khan.

“The player obviously is great, but the person behind the player is what really gives me hope,” Khan said. “I can’t believe how normal he is. He’s been the number one quarterback on all levels since he was 14 years old, being catered to at every level. His humility almost surprises me. I was impressed that he really wanted to come here, and wanted to spend his career in Jacksonville. That’s what he told me—he doesn’t want to move around. I told him, ‘If you do what you’ve done to this point, there’s going to be two constants—you’re going to be in Jacksonville, and I’m going to be in Jacksonville.’ “

Khan owns Fulham in the English Premier League, so he knows a bit about the world sport landscape. He thinks Lawrence has the ability to be the first cross-continent American star. “As great as Michael Jordan was, he was never a true superstar over there,” Khan said. “Trevor has the gravitas. I think he could become a true international superstar.”

Well, whoa. When I posed that to Lawrence, he was a bit taken aback. “I thought about how cool it’ll be to play in London, but . . . I try not to think about that too much. My job now especially is to come in and to win games and to get ready to be the best I can be and to make the team as good as we can be. I try not to think about all the other byproducts of it.”

But the thought seemed super awesome, upon reflection. “Obviously that would be cool,” he said.

Football first. “I need to come in, go to work, and earn the trust and respect of my teammates. There’s obviously so many things that I want to improve on and get better at. But really, I think, there’s not one specific way you need to play quarterback to be successful. It’s just doing what I know that I’m good at and bringing that here and improving on all the things I need to improve on. But as far as my style of play, I’m just going to be me and play the way I’ve always played.”

That’s been good enough to be the best passing prospect since Andrew Luck. But there will be tough days for the quarterback who lost two games in three years, and the coach who never had a three-game losing streak in 17 years of college football. Hiring Meyer and drafting Lawrence were the two best moves the franchise could make, by far. But games aren’t won in the offseason. The Jags are 12-36 since opening day 2019.

“We’ll enjoy the honeymoon,” Khan said, “until the ball is snapped.”

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.