Casa QB Lawson picks New Mexico


Casa Grande quarterback JaJuan Lawson, right, and running back John Porchivina, left, signed letters of intent to play Division I college football on Wednesday. (Photo by Beth Schlanker, The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande quarterback JaJuan Lawson, right, and running back John Porchivina, left, signed letters of intent to play Division I college football on Wednesday. (Photo by Beth Schlanker, The Press Democrat)

PETALUMA — Cal came after JaJuan Lawson. So did Arizona and Arizona State. Some of the biggest programs in the West wanted the Casa Grande senior to play football for them. There was just one catch: They pictured Lawson as a defensive back.

But the best quarterback in the Redwood Empire last season never questioned his ability to play that position at the next level. Neither do the coaches at the University of New Mexico, who received a letter of intent from Lawson on Wednesday.

“To tell you the truth, last year at this time, if someone said New Mexico, I would have said, ‘No. No way,’” Lawson admitted. “But I went out there, loved it and that’s what it came down to for me.”

Lawson and teammate John Porchivina, a star running back and linebacker for the Gauchos, announced their intentions early Wednesday morning in Room R5 on the Casa Grande campus. The fixed decorations of the classroom, including depictions of Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, were accented by pinned-up football jerseys and columns of color-appropriate balloons — red-and-gray for Lawson, blue-and-yellow for Porchivina, who announced recently that he will play at Cal.

Porchivina spoke to Golden Bears coach Sonny Dykes on speaker phone with about 70 spectators jammed into the small room, and then it was Lawson’s turn to call New Mexico coach Bob Davie.

Porchivina had originally committed to Fresno State, but a highlight reel sent by Casa coach Trent Herzog over Christmas break piqued Cal’s interest. Once it was clear that Porchivina met UC Berkeley’s admission standards, his choice was a no-brainer.

“It’s Cal, you know? My education’s really important to me,” Porchivina said. “I’m looking 50 years down the road, not five.”

As the national signing day event started, Porchivina had five different Cal caps arrayed before him on a table at the front of the room. Lawson, whose decision was a well-guarded secret, had five different caps — Boston College, New Mexico, UNLV, Arizona and Fresno State — to build the suspense.

Lawson had as many as 13 scholarship offers to play quarterback, and they kept coming right till the end. Herzog said Army called him at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday for a final pitch. New Mexico was in the game all along. The Lobos sent coaches to scout Lawson twice last season. He made New Mexico his No. 1 pick in mid-January, but it took an official in-home visit from head coach Bob Davie and wide receivers coach Scott Baumgartner, the team’s recruiting coordinator, on Jan. 26 to seal the deal.

If the Lobos had any concerns about Lawson, they were dismissed during that visit.

“JaJuan started talking about coverages — just coverages,” said Davie, who coached Notre Dame from 1997 to 2001. “He went through and rattled off about the fundamentals of coverage, and I was so impressed with his knowledge of football. I told him, I don’t have any quarterbacks now who can say things as quickly and at as high a level as he did.”

Lawson’s background on defense — he was a starting cornerback for the Gauchos — certainly helped his performance. So did having a Casa assistant coach, father Marcel Lawson, in the family.

New Mexico isn’t necessarily intent on redshirting Lawson as a freshman. Davie said he will get a chance to compete with the Lobos’ two returning quarterbacks. The Lobos also landed Patrick Reed, a dual-threat QB from Silsbee, Texas.

New Mexico is 7-18 in two seasons under Davie, with a 2-14 record in the Mountain West Conference. That’s a huge improvement. Davie took over one of the weakest programs in the country in 2012, a team that had logged three consecutive 1-11 seasons.

The Lobos run a version of the Pistol offense, which Baumgartner learned from the renowned Chris Ault at Nevada (think Colin Kaepernick). They ranked in the top five nationally in rushing yardage each of the past two years. Davie wants to add some aerial firepower while retaining a read-option scheme, and he thinks Lawson can help.

“The first two years it was really about trying to slow the game down, be competitive, build back up, and in that we had no choice but to run the football,” Davie said. “But we know we have to be more balanced. I think JaJuan is that unique talent that can allow us to continue to be as efficient running the ball as we’ve been, but give us a chance to be balanced moving forward.”

Lawson was a true dual threat at Casa Grande, passing for 2,203 yards and 23 touchdowns, and running for 1,152 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. The Gauchos went 13-1, narrowly losing to Miramonte in the North Coast Section Division 2 championship.

Lawson will get his chance to play in the spotlight if he is able to win a starting position. In 2016, the Lobos will open the season at USC.

Asked whether he can visualize that game, Lawson said: “Of course. You open up, season debut at the (Los Angeles) Coliseum. There’s rumors New Mexico might be playing (Texas) A&M for two years. They’re taking Arizona State on the next few years. We’re playing big-time football.”

Having secured that opportunity, Lawson can finally exhale. The past month has been a vortex of recruiting visits and all-star games, with three straight weekends out of town. Lawson was scheduled to fly to the University of Toledo last week, but called it off at the last minute, declaring enough was enough.

“Signing and getting it off my back, you get five months to be a senior in high school,” he said. “I mean, I wasn’t able to be a junior or a sophomore because you had to deal with the process. So I get five months to just relax, have fun, and then when it comes time for college, it’s going to be another step and a new level of pain, but you’re going to have fun with it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or

See photos of National Signing Day at Casa Grande High School here

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