Keli Lawson was considered maybe the best prospect in Virginia Tech's 2021 class. Though his career path took a brief, bizarre detour to wide receiver for his first year in Blacksburg, 2022 proved to be a year to get Lawson back on track starting with moving him back to where he should have been at in the first place, linebacker.
That move did take some time for him to adjust back to being at LB, but once he got enough reps under his belt at LB, Lawson broke out at the will LB spot.
Over the final three games of the season, Lawson was one of Tech's best players starting with having 4 tackles, a pick 6, and a pass breakup against Georgia Tech. He followed that with 7 tackles including 1 for loss against Duke, and then 5 tackles with 2 for loss including 1 sack plus a sack in the win over Liberty to end the season.
That strong finish made it clear that Lawson was going to be the guy at the will LB spot going forward and rightly have many circling him as a potential breakout star for 2023.
So far this offseason, Lawson is continuing to take steps forward in the eyes of defensive coordinator Chris Marve. Not only is he doing so with his game as he gets more comfortable at linebacker, but also with his leadership especially with the changing of the guard of sorts following Dax Hollifield's final season leaving an opening.
"What I’ve seen from Keli is a few things. I think he’s taken a step forward in this phase one of Hunger Drills and has really established his voice on the defense. I believe in the ability of having to lead yourself before you can lead others. Being a young guy in college, being a young guy on the football team, kind of finding your way being behind a Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale who’s been there for a long time and becoming a linebacker for the first time, you’re sifting through a lot of stuff to figure out what actually works for you and what works within the confines of our defense. Once you’re able to do that consistently, then your voice is going to be heard even louder after you make plays," Marve said.
Helping Lawson find his voice and grow into being a leader has also been a point of emphasis for Marve in Tech's development of their rising star LB.
"He’s embracing the opportunity to lead," Marve said. "I think he’s not taking a backseat to it. One thing I talk to him about is you don’t need to take a backseat to anybody for any reason. If you’re able to consistently go about your work the right way, uphold the expectations and be a standard setter and a culture driver, if you can do those things, you’ve got an opportunity to be one of the guys."
Of course, there's still plenty of on-field performance related development for Lawson to grow into including physically given the tremendous frame he has at 6'4'' and 220 pounds that is reminiscent of former star LB Tremaine Edmunds. So far, Lawson is putting on the size that Chris Marve was hoping he would this offseason.
"He’s got some girth on him now. He’s got a little bit more size and he’s moving around really well," Marve said. "I think he’s gotten a little bit bigger while also maintaining if not getting a little faster and stronger."
Additionally, Lawson has only had one full collegiate year at linebacker after that aforementioned, bizarre year at WR given his skill set. Now that he does have a year under his belt, Lawson now can focus on growing as a LB rather than just re-learning the LB position which is clearly helping his growth.
"“Two things that jump out to me are muscle memory. He will be used to the movements, used to the alignments, how we blitz, how we drop, and I think recognition of things are going to be a lot easier for him this year," Marve said. "Everything was new, but he was able to adjust and progress and like all of you saw, at the end of the year, he really came on. I think all of those things will be really helpful particularly to our position, because we’re in the middle of the defense."
There's no doubt that Keli Lawson has all the tools to become a star and has shown on the field the potential to be just that after putting on a show last season in November. Unsurprisingly, Tech's coaching staff also believes that they have a rising star in Lawson including sam LBs/nickels coach Shawn Quinn.
"I think he’s an NFL future guy. He’s a freak athlete and does a lot of stuff well and he’s super coachable. His upside is tremendous."