Manny Lawson began to add some bulk to his 6-foot-5 frame as a sophomore, but that didn't stop him from developing into a star on North Carolina State's track and field team, where Lawson competed in the hurdles, long jump, triple jump and the 400-meter relay. On the football field, he moved into the starting lineup at outside linebacker, then was shifted to defensive end for the Wolfpack's postseason game against Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl.
That was the start of something really big, as Lawson found a home where he would develop into one of the nation's most prolific pass rushers. Lawson had seven sacks, 16 quarterback pressures and 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage while earning All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and the Wolfpack's most valuable defensive lineman award as a junior.
Becoming a workout warrior who later would wow scouts and pro personnel with his performance at the 2006 NFL Combine – which included a 4.41-second clocking in the 40-yard dash – Lawson was one of the nation's top defenders last season as a senior, when he had a career-high 58 tackles, was 12th in the nation with 10.5 sacks and 14th with 19.5 stops behind the line, to go along with 21 quarterback pressures, four pass deflections and the seventh blocked kick of his college career.
But not everybody always was watching, because Lawson was getting some heavy competition for the spotlight from the guy who was lining up opposite him on North Carolina State's fearsome defensive line.
That was junior Mario Williams, who also had a monster 2005 season that led to him being the No. 1 overall selection by the Houston Texans in last month's draft.
Needless to say, a high level of friendly competition developed between Lawson and his football roommate.
"Our competition was designed to see who would be the first one to the quarterback," Lawson said. "He came in as a freshman and I taught him some of the ropes. Him and I roomed together and grew accustomed to each other, like brothers … very good friends … very competitive.
"The night before each game, we always talked about what kind of stats we were going to have. ‘I'm going to have six sacks.' ‘OK, you're going to have six, I'm going to have six-and-a-half.' I had to beat him. So I still feel to this day he can call me up on Saturday afternoon (before their NFL games to come) and tell me, ‘Well, I'm going to do this right there.' ‘Well, I'm going to do this-right-there-and-a-half more than you.' I feel as though that relationship is never going to change. But on the field, we complemented each other."
Lawson won't have Williams around to complement him with the 49ers, and the team is expecting him to come in and replace two-time Pro Bowler Julian Peterson – who left the team via free agency in March – and perhaps become the team's featured edge rusher as Lawson moves back to his former position of outside linebacker.
"I'll fulfill any role that the 49ers want me to, be it pass rush, be it coverage, be it run stop – anything they need me to do," Lawson said. "I'm more so a speed rusher, but there's also other incorporated techniques that's in my ability as far as being more of a finesse player, using leverage, watching (opponents) and seeing how they shift their weight and then use their weight against them. The (49ers) have somebody who is very intense on the field who's going to give 110 percent and everything he has to get the ball, and I'm not going to set any limit on what I can accomplish."
But Lawson knows it's a whole new forest of competition he's entering now, and the trees he'll be putting the moves on won't be staying in one place.
"Oh, yeah, they're a whole lot faster," Lawson said with a deadpan smile. "And they move better, too. They just don't sway left and right, side to side. So I have to account for all that. But I am ready for the challenge, and I welcome it."