Dwayne Lawson went to Virginia Tech in 2015 thinking he'd be a star ACC quarterback.
A year later, he was the backup quarterback at a junior college in Kansas -- due mostly to his own mistakes.
But the Tampa, Fla., native has earned another huge opportunity to shine as a power-five star signal caller, giving a verbal commitment to Illinois on Monday.
"I think the offense is perfect for my skill set," Lawson told Illini Inquirer on Tuesday in a text-message conversation. "I've never played against a Big Ten team, but football is football, no matter what. But not only do I have a lot to prove, but now we have a lot to prove as a team."
Illini offensive coordinator Garrick McGee made the 6-foot-6, 230-pound dual-threat quarterback a priority once Lawson -- who during high school had offers from Ohio State, Tennessee, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Michigan State, Miami, Georgia, Florida and several others -- transferred out of Virginia Tech in August.
"What sold me on Coach McGee and the Illinois staff is being able to connect with them on a personal level instead of just football," Lawson said. "And I really feel that he has a great plan for me on graduating and doing what I love to do.
"When I officially decided to transfer from Tech, the conversations were just like any other. (McGee) always had my best interest in mind throughout the whole process. There was other schools (interested), but those schools didn't stick around, and I wasn't going anywhere if I didn't trust what I was being told."
Lawson wanted to immediately transfer to Illinois, but he said the NCAA suggested he go to junior college for a year. He arrived at Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas, partway through fall training camp. He was the BroncBusters second-most used quarterback this past season, completing 22 of 41 passes for 354 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 188 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries.
Lawson said he learned plenty though with Garden City, which beat Arizona Western 25-22 in the NJCAA national championship game.
"What it takes to be a champion," Lawson said when asked what he learned this fall. "How it's an every-day commitment and everyone has to be bought in. You can't win thinking about what's not important."
Lawson, Scout.com's No. 29 quarterback prospect in the Class of 2016, will help usher in a new era of athletic quarterbacks for Illinois.
His top competition for the starting job is redshirt junior Chayce Crouch, who sparked the Illini in two games but is recovering from shoulder surgery. The Illini depth chart also will feature redshirt sophomore Jeff George Jr., who in four starts in 2016 had a 40.4 completion rate and threw for 470 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. Incoming freshman dual-threat quarterback Cam Thomas likely will need time to develop.
Lawson's top-notch tools -- and McGee's hot pursuit of him -- would appear to make him the favorite. But he's not approaching it that way.
"Regardless of what's said, I'll have to compete for the job, and I wouldn't have it any other way," Lawson said. "I'm not looking for a handout."
Lawson doesn't come without red flags. He slipped down the Virginia Tech depth chart during spring practice, and he addressed reports that he failed multiple drug tests at Virginia Tech and had faced suspension if he stayed with the Hokies.
Lawson said the first positive test was for Adderall, a stimulant used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and that his second offense occurred when he showed up late for another drug test.
"When I was at Tech, I took an Adderall before skills and drills not knowing how serious it was," Lawson said. "At the time I was meeting with a specialist to test if I had ADHD, and I didn't know how they affected your body. So I took that one and haven't taken one since even though I was diagnosed (with ADHD) by the specialist a couple days after I left. But I've gotten this far without them, so I'm not going to take them.
"Once I found out, I self-reported and at first nobody was supposed to know, one coach told me. Once I decided to transfer, it became a story then. But I own up to the mistakes I made there, and I'm just ready to make a impact right away and help win games."
Lawson will visit Illinois for the first time in January but will mostly focus on earning his associate's degree at Garden City this spring. He is scheduled to enroll at Illinois in July.
"I want to get my body ready and my mind ready before anything else," Lawson said. "I have to work on my craft and graduating, most importantly."