Column: Lawrence just wanted to play, now he must watch

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) waves to fans after an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)

Trevor Lawrence just wanted to play.

All he could do Saturday was watch.

The star quarterback of the nation’s top-ranked college football team has joined millions of victims of the coronavirus pandemic, becoming another stark reminder of just how tenuous this season really is.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="A positive test this week forced Lawrence to sit out Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference game against Boston College.” data-reactid=”39″>A positive test this week forced Lawrence to sit out Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference game against Boston College.

It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to play next weekend in one of the biggest games of the season against No. 4 Notre Dame.

“My symptoms have been fairly mild while I’m following the protocol from Clemson and the ACC,” Lawrence wrote on Twitter. “The only thing that hurts is missing an opportunity to be with my teammates this weekend and play the game I love.”

It was a cruel twist of fate for a player who energized the movement to have a season when he urged those in charge to “Let Us Play.”

While it’s probably a stretch to say there wouldn’t have been a season without Lawrence’s pleas — seriously, do we think athletic departments were going to pass up all that television money? — it was still a powerful message coming from a player who will likely be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.

No one should blame Lawrence — even now, when he’s hopefully recovering with no long-term health issues — for his passionate desire to play one more season with the Tigers.

Lawrence certainly didn’t need a third year to improve his draft stock after leading the Tigers to the national championship as a freshman and another trip to the title game last season. But he really seems to enjoy the college game and simply wanted another crack at a trophy with the Tigers.

Whether it was the right stand to take will likely be debated for years to come as frightening news just keeps on coming from a virus that couldn’t care less who wins on Saturdays.

The tally of new U.S. cases has climbed near 100,000 and shows no signs of abating — especially in the Midwest, where state after state keeps reporting new highs for daily infections.

Those states are essentially the footprint of the Big Ten conference, which initially chose to hold off playing at least until after the first of the year.

We still think that was the proper call, especially now. But when three other major conferences decided to take the field, the Big Ten (as well as the Pac-12) buckled to recruiting and financial pressures to hold an abbreviated season that began last weekend.

It was a horrific bit of timing, coming right in the midst of the worst numbers yet for a worldwide health crisis that shows no signs of abating.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="No. 9 Wisconsin was forced to cancel its game Saturday at Nebraska and pause team activities for at least a week after at least 22 people in the program — including coach Paul Chryst — tested positive for COVID-19.” data-reactid=”51″>No. 9 Wisconsin was forced to cancel its game Saturday at Nebraska and pause team activities for at least a week after at least 22 people in the program — including coach Paul Chryst — tested positive for COVID-19.

“We’re still having additions in our cases, and that’s something we’ve got to get our arms around and control it,” athletic director Barry Alvarez said on ESPN’s “College GameDay.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The bad news kept on coming with Illinois — which lost to Wisconsin last weekend— announcing that senior starting quarterback Brandon Peters and redshirt freshman tight end Griffin Moore wouldn’t be able to play Saturday against Purdue after positive tests.” data-reactid=”53″>The bad news kept on coming with Illinois — which lost to Wisconsin last weekend— announcing that senior starting quarterback Brandon Peters and redshirt freshman tight end Griffin Moore wouldn’t be able to play Saturday against Purdue after positive tests.

Illinois announced a total of 14 players who were sitting out, some of them because of contact tracing. Under Big Ten rules, Peters and Moore will have to sit for 21 days — missing three games in an eight-game regular season — before they are eligible to return.

While Chryst understood the decision to postpone Wisconsin’s game, he was kicking himself for being part of an outbreak so early into a season that had taken so long to get off the ground.

“When you have a hand in it,” he said, “that’s where there’s disappointment.”

It’s not known when the Badgers will return to the field.

There were reports that quarterback Graham Mertz has tested positive twice – which would require him to sit out at least 21 days — and backup quarterback Chase Wolf had tested positive at least once.

Wisconsin has only one other quarterback on scholarship.

Clemson planned to carry on without Lawrence for at least one week. His status for Notre Dame is uncertain because he’ll have to sit out at least 10 days under ACC guidelines.

“I hate that I can’t be there, but I’ll be watching from isolation and pulling for our guys while I wait for the opportunity (to) rejoin the team,” Lawrence said.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="In the meantime, freshman DJ Uiagalelei will handle the quarterback job for the Tigers.” data-reactid=”66″>In the meantime, freshman DJ Uiagalelei will handle the quarterback job for the Tigers.

Before learning of his positive test, Lawrence insisted that he and his teammates were following all the safety protocols.

“We do a good job here staying our social distance, six feet, in our meeting rooms wearing masks, all those things to where we’re not close contacts, we’re not around each other, so we couldn’t transmit the virus,” he said.

Lawrence will surely head to the NFL after this season, where speculation is rife over who might be in position to land him with the top overall pick.

He might want to consider moving on even sooner.

There is no real joy to this season. Wins and losses are becoming more and more trivial.

The only goal that matters is getting to the end with everyone alive.

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Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

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