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Trevor Laws: Going out in style

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Last season, Trevor Laws was part of an all-senior defensive line for Notre Dame as a defensive tackle. But after tackle Derek Landri and ends Victor Abiamiri and Chris Frome graduated, Laws was the only experienced defensive lineman on Notre Dame’s roster who could return for a fifth year.

Laws took that fifth year to try to improve his play on a solid team, but instead has been one of the top players on one of the worst teams in the nation.

But he wouldn’t trade it in for anything.

“If could go back in time, I would make the exact same decision because I’ve had great moments with my good friends here,” he said.

Life before Weis

Laws came out of Apple Valley High School in Apple Valley, Minn., as one of the top recruits from Minnesota – even though his team was never one of the best in the state.

“Apple Valley High School was a great place. We were never really that good, but we played hard every game,” he said.

Laws played on both sides of the ball in high school as a versatile lineman on offense and as a tackle on defense – although he made his name as a defensive standout.

As a senior, Laws had 87 tackles, 11 sacks. Before that, he had 85 tackles, 10 sacks and 25 tackles for loss as a junior – enough to make him a first team all-state selection.

But in high school, football may not have been Laws’ best sport. He finished his high school wrestling career as a three-time all-American with a 142-5 record, including an undefeated 49-0 campaign as the top-ranked super-heavyweight in his junior season.

In football, Laws made consistent appearances on various football recruiting lists, and was named an ESPN.com and USA Today prep All-American. Laws was rated the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country his senior season and earned Gatorade player of the year honors in Minnesota.

When colleges came to recruit Laws, he knew that he wanted to go to a Big Ten school so that he could be close to home; Notre Dame wasn’t on his initial list.

“I wasn’t always a Notre Dame fan, and when I first got the letter to come here I didn’t know if that was the right decision for me,” he said.

But when he sat down and thought about it, Laws decided that Notre Dame’s combination of athletics and academics – he was a member of the National Honor Society in high school – made it a good place to go.

When Laws entered the University, he played his first two seasons under coach Tyrone Willingham. He did not get on the field as a freshman and finished his sophomore season with 17 tackles, two pass break-ups and a forced fumble.

When Willingham was fired on Nov. 30, 2004, Laws said he was shocked.

“It was tough; I didn’t see it coming at all. Coming to Notre Dame you think you’re going to be with this guy you’re whole career and then he gets fired,” he said. “So it’s tough, but [coach Charlie] Weis came in and we had such a successful year and thought this was going to be great so that made it easier. But it’s always tough losing some of your coaches.”

Becoming a star

When Weis took over, Laws said, it took some adjusting to the new coach’s personality.

“It was definitely a little bit of culture shock but you get used to it fast,” Laws said. “And [defensive line] coach [Jappy] Oliver has been a great position coach, it’s been great having him with me.”

Laws took immediate advantage of the new system, earning a starting job as a defensive tackle in his junior season. Laws started all 12 games on the defensive line but netted only 33 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.

Even though Laws had relatively modest numbers, his coaches still saw the potential he had to be a top-tier defensive player.

“Even when I first got here I have always thought that Trevor was a great technician. I really have,” Oliver said.

Oliver also said that Laws has been relentless – especially this season – in trying to make a big play on every down.

“The one thing I’ve tried to do is get him to trust his instincts, because Trevor has great instincts,” Oliver said. “And a lot of players do not trust them; they get a feel for it, but that’s what it’s all about. If you sense something, trust your instincts and go play.”

Weis said that Laws reminds him of a lot of the great defensive tackles he faced as an offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

“He’s a very disruptive inside player because he’s not only short but he’s powerful and quick off the ball and the schemes of the teams that we were coaching had a lot more of the two-gap type players,” Weis said. “He’s definitely more a prototypical 4-3 inside defensive lineman. There’s a whole bunch that he reminds me of – those pain in the butts that are always in the backfield.”

Laws played well in 2006 alongside fellow seniors Abiamiri, Landri and Frome. He had 62 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, 9 1/2 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

But things all changed this season since his teammates on the line all left – and so did defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

One of the most important decisions for Laws was whether he should even take the fifth year. But he said that he has a lot of friends in the fifth-year class, and they decided to play one more year together.

“In the end, we decided it would be the best for all of us to come back and play another year at Notre Dame, another year for each other and also at the same time elevate ourselves in the draft for next year,” he said.

Still, when Corwin Brown came in and brought his 3-4 personnel defense, everything changed for Laws.

Elder statesman

Laws has been one of the players most affected by the new defensive scheme. Laws said that he sees himself as more of a defensive tackle in a 4-3, but had to make the adjustment to playing end.

To prepare for the change, Laws said, he lost some weight and did drills to increase his speed and mobility because he would have more room to work with on the end.

Weis said that even though Laws is listed as an end, he has played every position on the line this season – something that will help him at the next level.

“He’s played both inside and outside both left and right this year so what he’s really done is he’s elevated his status,” Weis said. “He can play left defensive tackle, right defensive tackle, left end or right end. So he’s really helped himself, rather than get pigeonholed at just one spot.”

But the biggest change was not from tackle to end, but in becoming one of the leaders on the field.

This year’s Irish defensive line is filled with young, inexperienced players – except for Laws and nose tackle Pat Kuntz – so Laws took it on himself to be the leader of that group.

“During spring ball … I looked down the line and saw all the new faces and knew that it was up to me to help teach these guys how to play football,” Laws said. “At first it was tough with guys learning their positions and everything and learning how to play, but now it’s a point in the season where guys are playing great football and I don’t have to say anything anymore.”

Laws said that he expected the team to struggle because of the losses on the offensive side of the ball but never would have thought the team could have been this bad. Moreover, he said that his solid season – 98 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and five pass breakups – cannot overshadow the team’s performance.

“I will never feel good about this season, but maybe in the future it will be easier to look back on myself and see the positives,” Laws said. “But I will never be OK with the way we played,” he said.

But one of the toughest parts of being the lone senior on such a young defensive line has been focusing on this season’s final four games – his last at Notre Dame.

“Some people are saying ‘I’m looking forward to next year, this is the beginning of next year,’ or something like that and I don’t want to think about it that way,” Laws said. “The way I do think about it sometimes is just helping younger guys because it is my team and they’re going to be playing next year for my school, so just helping them along and playing hard these last four games.”

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Nov. 2 issue of The Observer.