"But when it gets close you start to notice. When it gets out of the hundreds and into the double-digits, yeah, it gets real."
And now it is very real with just a couple digits left to wind away before Saturday's 6:02 kickoff of another Battle for the Golden Egg. Of course playing to retain the celebrated trophy for a third-straight year, something not done by Bulldogs in seven decades, gives the 2011 edition more than the usual meaning to the home team.
For an old hand like Lawrence, though, there will be added—and opposing—incentives on the Scott Field sidelines. At 5-6 the Bulldogs are still playing for one of the Southeastern Conference's bowl berths, with most of the late-season interest coming from the Music City and Liberty classics. But, State must walk off the home field a winner before making any holiday travel plans.
Whereas, the 2-9 Rebels were ruled out long ago and only have pride to play for, in avoiding a winless SEC season, as well as to end their dismissed coach's tenure. Or so it would seem to anyone but a competitor. Like Lawrence.
"We get the excitement of the pressure of we have to have this to go to a bowl," he said. "And they get the excitement of if they knocked us off they get to keep us from going to a bowl. So it puts, I don't know if pressure but maybe puts more excitement on the line."
The line being where right tackle Lawrence works, of course. He's done his scouting of the Rebel defensive schemes and has some idea of what is in store Saturday. Alignment-wise, anyway; the personnel taking a stance opposite his position might be another matter.
"I think it's C.J. Johnson, but I'm not entirely sure," Lawrence said. "I know they rotate about eight different guys in there so there is no telling!" Beyond that Ole Miss has tried a variety of sets all through the season with varied results so Lawrence & Company have to be ready as possible for anything. And everything. Besides, they will be blocking for two different-style running backs in Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins…and protecting two even more differing triggermen in Tyler Russell and Chris Relf. And that doesn't even include the special short-yard sets designed for Dylan Favre.
Lawrence has been through the Egg Bowl week drills four times already, including his 2007 redshirt freshman season. It would be hard to find a Bulldog veteran with more knowledge of the rivalry in fact, which is why this senior isn't taking game-week projections of an easy Mississippi State win seriously. Far from it.
"You can't really pick one big favorite. I know a couple of years ago when they were picked as the big favorite." That being 2009 when State shocked the #25-ranked Rebs with a second-half rout, and Lawrence holding up his right end of the line. He also recalls watching as a redshirt when favored Dogs needed their own fourth-quarter comeback to stave off upset.
For that matter a year ago in Oxford, after visiting State had everything seemingly under control, the home team tried a rally of their own that only ended on a last-snap sack to seal 31-23 victory. So, no, don't tell this Dog to look for an easy evening's work.
"It never matters who is picked, it all depends on who wants it most."
Naturally Lawrence wants this one more than ever since it is after all his last Egg Bowl. There's the issue of final bragging rights for all the Mississippi natives after all. Though as Lawrence notes, being from a small private school he doesn't have a lot of prep peers playing for the other school. Just a few is enough.
"I know some of the guys, Bradley Sowell and me have known each other since we were very young playing baseball against each other. So forever we've been battling! He pitched and played first, all the typical big-guy stuff, and I did the same big-guy positions." Well, not entirely the same. "I wasn't a very good pitcher! He was the young guy who could throw the smoke." So Lawrence will settle for claiming superiority at the sack? "I'll take that!"
He'll also take whatever conditions are thrown at him and his unit too. There is a 50/50 chance of Saturday rain increasing into the later evening. No fun for fans, but Lawrence—who paints his face black before games anyway--actually kinda likes the notion of leaving Scott Field with a thoroughly mudded-and-blooded uniform.
"We haven't played in the rain all season. It might help us, we're not a pass happy team. I might have the fun of being a pig!"
Big fun for him. The real fun will be taking his Bulldog-bow with the Golden Egg, because this is the last time Lawrence and his classmates will wear game gear on the home field. Sure, with a win they can look forward to bowl practicing there…but this is it for the real thing after five long, yet fast falls.
"I think this is the week it has finally hit me," said Lawrence. "Everybody has been asking me that it's getting late in the season, are you getting sad yet? I was like nah, not really…but this week it has become kind of surreal. And it's going to hit me, I'm going to get emotional. Last workout, last everything. So I'm excited."
All the more so every time he glances at that locker room clock and sees it tick down a little more, and more, and…