North Carolina verbal commitment Jake Lawler made the tough decision to have season-ending surgery earlier this week.
"It was pretty difficult, because I didn't want to give up on the people that I've been with for four years," Lawler said. "But on the other hand, I had this big opportunity waiting for me and I didn't want to mess it up in any way. It was just a decision that I had to make by myself with my family. I think I made the right one."
Lawler, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive end from Charlotte (N.C.) South Mecklenburg, ends his high school career with 33 sacks, 216 tackles, four forced fumbles, and 30 TFLs in three varsity seasons while playing in the most competitive area of the state. He finished his senior campaign with 65 tackles, including 10 for a loss and 10 sacks -- barely missing a couple of goals he had set for the year.
"I don't have any regrets," Lawler said. "At the end of the day, I know I gave it as much as I could for my team. I'm proud of how my team played around me."
While playing rival Charlotte Catholic on Oct. 14, Lawler injured his shoulder.
"It was on a punt play and I was on the back line blocking," Lawler said. "This guy was running and pushed my shoulder backwards."
Despite the pain, Lawler didn't leave the game. In the week that followed, the discomfort became progressively worse, which forced him to sit out the following contest and see a doctor the subsequent Monday. An MRI revealed a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Since there was little risk of further damage and just a pain tolerance situation, Lawler played the ensuing game. However, the pass rusher essentially competed with one arm.
The Wednesday prior to South Meck's regular season finale, Lawler decided he would suit up for the Sabres one last time and then have season-ending surgery.
Lawler's surgery was performed at UNC on Tuesday by the Tar Heels' team doctors. He was back on campus the next day for an examination and will return a week later for a second checkup.
While on campus this week, several UNC coaches stopped by to see Lawler.
"They just said, 'We have injuries like this all the time, so don't get down because it's pretty common and you'll be back in no time,'" Lawler said. "They want me to take it slow, take it day-by-day. And they made sure I knew they were with me."
On average, recovery time for labrum surgery is three months. In addition to the remainder of South Meck's season, Lawler will miss the Shrine Bowl. It's yet-to-be-determined how much, if any, of UNC's spring practice the midterm enrollee will miss.
"They said they're going to take it slow and see how I recover," Lawler said. "It's more of a week by week thing."
Lawler's arm will remain in a sling for about four weeks. Once out of the sling, he'll begin rehabilitation, which conveniently nearly coincides with his UNC enrollment.
This Friday, South Mecklenburg will travel to Clemmons, N.C. for the opening round of the NCHSAA 4AA playoffs against West Forsyth. Although he won't dress, Lawler will be on the sidelines.
"When I dislocated my finger [during preseason practice], I was out for the first week and I was out for the two scrimmages that we had," Lawler said. "I was basically doing the same thing that I'm doing now, which is coaching, really. I'll be telling the young guys how to get into position, where they have to be during what plays, where they have to go, and then try to motivate them to play the best that they can."
Lawler is one of the few recruits who has attended all of UNC's home games this season. That streak will end Saturday as he'll stay home to rest. Depending on how he feels, he could make the Tar Heels' regular season finale against archrival N.C. State on Black Friday.
"I think collectively, they've been doing an awesome job," Lawler said of UNC's season. "They're winning. Some of the wins have been grind it out wins, but some have been blowouts, which is pretty cool to see. Their losses, they've all been pretty close, except for the Hurricane [Matthew] game. I think we all know if we didn't play in a hurricane the result would have been much closer and maybe different.
"I think they're going to win out with the next two [games], hopefully jump back into the top 25, and get a good bowl game.
"I know most of the guys [on the team] now. It's cool to see my friends up there and future teammates just doing what they need to do. I'm proud of the way they've played, even though they've had their slip-ups, regardless of what fans or haters say."