Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Charlotte’s Jonathan Cruz: High school buds turned rivals

Jonathan Cruz and Trevor Lawrence will be on the same football field again Saturday when top-ranked Clemson faces the Charlotte 49ers in Death Valley. This time, they’ll be on opposite sidelines.

Cruz, the Charlotte 49ers’ sophomore kicker, and Lawrence, Clemson’s sophomore quarterback, were teammates and friends growing up in Cartersville, Ga., where they were key players on two consecutive Cartersville Purple Hurricanes state championship teams.

Now they’ve moved up to the college ranks. Lawrence is one of the sport’s top quarterback and led Clemson to last season’s national championship. Cruz, Conference USA’s preseason special teams player of the year, quickly established himself last season as one of the country’s top kickers. His 56-yarder that beat Florida Atlantic was the second-longest made field goal in the nation in 2018.

Cruz and Lawrence first met when they were in seventh grade and playing middle-school ball together. Two seasons later, former Cartersville head coach Joey King brought up only two freshmen onto the varsity: Cruz and Lawrence.

“We were the only two on the varsity, so he was my buddy,” Lawrence told the Observer on Monday. “We got to spend a lot of time together, us being freshman. Traveling to games, we were together a lot. He was a fun guy, never too serious. He made some huge kicks for us.”

Cruz knew he was playing with a special kind of player in Lawrence.

“He was always humble and a great leader,” Cruz said. “He always put other people ahead of him. I always looked up to him.”

Cruz and Lawrence were probably Cartersville’s most dependable players during their four-year span on the varsity, which included a 41-game winning streak and the two state titles. Lawrence became the country’s most sought-after recruit, throwing for 3,908 passing yards and 161 touchdowns during his career. Cruz made a school-record 55-yard field goal as a senior, and converted all 72 of his point-after kicks.

“It was really, really something, having those guys as your top offensive weapons,” said King, now an assistant at Coastal Carolina. “You always want to get a touchdown when you get down close and we were confident we could take shots with Trevor. If not, we always had Jonathan. That makes your goal of scoring 100% of the time pretty realistic.”

Said Lawrence: “Jonathan was a pretty good security blanket. It’s a good feeling when you get to around the 40 to know you’re probably going to come away with points no matter what happens. Most of the time in high school, you’ve got to get to the 20 to have a guy who can make kicks.”

Cruz and Lawrence remained close throughout high school, going out to eat with friends and teammates often.

“But Trevor had a girlfriend, so we didn’t see him too much later,” Cruz said.

The quarterback and kicker ended their careers with a second straight state title.

“I told everybody we had to replace 18 seniors, including Trevor, after that season,” King said. “I was more worried about how I was going to replace Jonathan.”

Lawrence and Cruz text each other occasionally, and both said they will connect later this week. They’ll see each other on the field before kickoff, then head to their respective sidelines.

“It’ll be weird because he’d always come over to me and high-five after I kicked,” Cruz said. “It’ll be weird to see him on the other side of the field.”

David Scott: @davidscott14