Ten years ago, Shaq Lawson was in middle school and about as far from an exemplary student as a seventh-grader can get.
“I was the class clown,” Lawson said. “I went to school to crack jokes. I never thought I’d be standing here talking to kids.”
But there Lawson stood Tuesday night, with mother beaming proudly from the second row and a throng of young students hanging on his every word at the quarterly Coaches 4 Character program at Greenville’s Redemption World Outreach Center.
Lawson, an All-America defensive end for the Clemson football team last season, was joined by former teammate Charone Peake for the program, titled “Two Tigers, One Cause.”
The players, who are both preparing for the NFL Draft, shared messages of perseverance while stressing the importance of education and character development.
“If you want to be in sports, you’ve got to start off with the grades first,” said Lawson, a Central native who played at Daniel (SC) High School. “That’s the most important thing.”
Lawson should know; he had to attend Virginia’s Hargrave Military Academy to shore up his academics before he could launch his academic and athletic careers at Clemson.
“I wish I could take it back and start over and get off to a better start,” Lawson said.
Apparently, Taylor Branham-King and Brandon Belue already have heeded Lawson’s advice.
The two Woodmont High School seniors, both set to graduate on June 2, have been active athletically while maintaining solid if not spectacular academic standing, and were rewarded for their efforts by receiving The Greenville News’ Character Awards at the outset of the program.
Branham-King has maintained a 3.576 GPA while playing four years of basketball and participating in the recent Greenville County All-Star Game. She also has been a member of the National Beta Club, National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America.
An active member and children church staff member at Water of Life Christian Church in Greenville, Branham-King plans to attend the College of Charleston and major in physical therapy.
Belue played four years of baseball for the Wildcats and one year of football. He managed to maintain a 3.4 GPA despite having to overcome surgery to remove a brain tumor his senior year. Active in the community and his church – Unity Baptist in Simpsonville – Belue will attend Winthrop University, where he plans to major in education and become a history teacher.
Peake, a wide receiver out of Dorman (SC) High, overcame multiple knee injuries to post the most productive season of his career with 50 receptions for 716 yards and five touchdowns last season.
But more importantly he has a degree in his back pocket.
“Football can be taken away from me at any moment,” Peake told the attentive crowd. “But not my degree.”