POTTSBORO — Justin Lawler is doing what most professional athletes are doing: He’s waiting.
“I’m ready to go,” the Pottsboro native and Rams linebacker said. “I’m staying in shape doing some low-level intensity training. When the season gets closer, I’ll ramp it up.”
Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knows when any sports season will begin. Yet Lawler is doing his best to stay positive and in shape.
“We canceled OTAs (Organized Team Activities), so there is nothing for us to do as a team right now,” Lawler said. “But I’ve been walking, biking and weight training; just trying to maintain.”
Lawler has been for the team for two seasons but missed all of 2019 due to injury. He is mostly a special teams player and a back-up.
“I play on every special teams unit except kickoff,” Lawler said. “And I go in when the guys need a break. It’s been an incredible experience.”
Lawler was drafted by the Rams in 2018 during the seventh round. It was the culmination of a long-time goal and determination.
“A lot of things had to come together; and a lot of people who helped me, too,” Lawler said. “It felt great; just an incredible feeling.”
Playing at SMU from 2014-17 as a defensive end, Lawler began to feel “making the pros” was possible about halfway through his collegiate career. He recorded 226 tackles in his time with the Mustangs — 40 of them for losses. He also had 21 sacks and blocked six kicks.
“It was absolutely a goal of mine,” Lawler said. “Every little kid playing football has a dream of making it to the NFL. In college, it went from a dream to a goal. It became realistic as I got closer.”
Lawler’s goal now? Well, even in a pandemic, it’s all about the work he is doing now in his chosen profession.
“I want to continue to progress; making the team and playing well,” Lawler said. “I want to stay in shape and work hard to get better. Once I’ve done all that, the rest will follow.”
As proof, Lawler has “done all that” already during his first year on the team when the Rams went all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to the New England Patriots.
“To go all the way like that — especially in my first year — was a great feeling. Everything worked out for us,” Lawler said. “We had a great team; I got to contribute where I could. Everything I had done was leading up to that moment. What a great feeling.”
Lawler mentioned that the football program at Pottsboro was instrumental in his success.
“All the coaches there represent great people. They are incredible role models,” Lawler said. “The way the program is run instills discipline and emphasizes the importance of being a strong person in life as well as on the field. They teach dedication and hard work on a daily basis. Going through my time at Pottsboro, it was a great example for me.”
The coaches and program made such an impression on the young Lawler that he still visits the school and the coaches when he has the chance.
“Coach (Matt) Poe runs a great program; he is a great coach to have had for any young man,” Lawler said. “And Coach (Bart) Williams was an inspiration to me in the way he helped develop men out of the boys on the team. I will never forget him; I appreciate what he did for me.”
Poe remembers Lawler as a strong player who rarely came off the field for the Cardinals.
“Justin was a great player for us; he played defense and receiver. He even played tight end when we asked; he was always willing to help,” said Poe, who has been Pottsboro’s head coach since 2006. “He had a great work ethic; no one was going to outwork him.
“Justin is a top notch person; a family man; a nice guy. He was a great player for us.”
After playing all 16 games in 2018 and then spending all of last season on injured reserve, could there be another trip to the Super Bowl in Lawler’s future?
“Who knows?” he laughed. “I know I’m going to do my best to get ready for us to be there again.”