SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The biggest stage in his sport turned out to be nothing more than child's play for a teenager not only blessed beyond his years with tremendous physical gifts, but a maturity usually reserved for those much older.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the 19-year-old wunderkind from rural Georgia, brought one of football's most uttered clichés to life, indeed treating Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship like just any other game.
His calm demeanor and ability to read the field is the perfect complement for his cannon of an arm, and that lethal combination helped lead to a 44-16 drubbing of Alabama with a performance that may have signaled the passing of the torch for at least duration of Lawrence's stay with the Tigers.
And to think just a year ago he was watching Alabama beat his home-state Georgia team in the national championship as he readied to early enroll at Clemson as an 18-year-old. He looked as calm on the Levi's Stadium field as he likely did chilling in front of his TV watching last season.
"This is just surreal," Lawrence said. "It's always great just to get another game with this group of guys. It's been an amazing year and then, yeah, just an unbelievable experience."
Lawrence became the second true freshman quarterback to win a national championship game, joining Oklahoma's Jamelle Holloway from 1985. He's also the first true freshman to beat a Nick Saban coached team since 2007.
74 YARDS!! Justyn Ross to the HOUSE! 🏠 pic.twitter.com/kCIP1tJmfF— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 8, 2019
"That doesn't mean as much as being able to be a part of this team," Lawrence said. "Really, it's true, even if we didn't go all this way and win a national championship, this has been a team that I'll never forget. It's just been amazing, the focus and how driven this team is has been unbelievable. Just these seniors taking me in and they kind of dragged me along until I got my feet under me. They're just awesome people as well as awesome players."
Lawrence was named the game's most outstanding offensive player after completing 20 of 32 passing for 347 yards with three touchdowns and zero turnovers. He added 27 rushing yards and was never sacked. And those stats came after a first quarter in which he was 2 of 7 for 70 yards with a 62-yard completion to Tee Higgins the only viable moment.
Early on "it may have looked (like I was nervous), but I didn't really feel up and down. I feel we had a good plan and we knew what we were doing. Obviously every game there's some adjustments, especially when (Alabama) comes out doing some stuff a little different than you might think they will. They have great coaches too and they prepped for us and did a great job.
"We made some adjustments and I'm really just proud of how we handled everything and I'm really thankful for my offensive line. No sacks and they did an unbelievable job."
Lawrence threw one first half touchdown pass -- a 5-yard shovel to running back Travis Etienne -- but the same freshmen combination that helped Clemson surge to a prominent lead in the semifinal win over Notre Dame struck again in the third quarter.
Facing third-and-8 on Clemson's third offensive snap of the second half, Lawrence tossed a 14-yard sideline throw to Justyn Ross that turned into a huge play. Corner Saivion Smith slipped to the turf leaving Ross a mostly clear path to the end zone, needing to briefly sidestep one final defender, on his way to a 74-yard back-breaking touchdown and 37-16 lead.
Ross would make a pair of acrobatic grabs of 37 and 17 yards later in the quarter that helped set up Tee Higgins' 5-yard touchdown catch with 21 seconds left to close out the scoring. Ross caught two touchdowns and went over 100 yards in the second quarter in the Cotton Bowl and once again was clutch over one big spurt in allowing Clemson to put this one away.
Ross equaled a game-high six catches for a game-leading 153 yards.
"The games like this you've got to make big plays and the guys we have definitely did that," Lawrence said. "You just give them a chance and they'll come down with it. Like I said about the offensive line, same thing about the receivers, running backs, and everyone else, just amazing players. It took a lot to get here and I'm really just proud of those guys."
This article is written by Eric Boynton from Spartanburg Herald-Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.