How Hargrave Military Academy helped Lawson fulfill his football dreams

Posted May 3, 2016

Shaq Lawson acquired some important self-discipline after spending six months at Hargrave Military Academy. It made his transition to college academics and football a smooth one.

Shaq Lawson had lost his father in a car accident at age 16, and felt compelled to help his mother with his four younger siblings. While he capably served as a father figure in the absence of his own and decided to accept a scholarship to Clemson instead of Tennessee to be closer to home, his grades were where he came up short. Despite his best efforts he could not qualify to enroll at Clemson, which meant one thing, military prep school.

Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia would be where Lawson would be getting his grades in order for the next six months to make him academically eligible for Clemson and football.

“I was doing summer school to try to avoid it, but the NCAA didn’t count the class I took at summer school so when I found out I had to go to Hargrave I was in tears at first,” admitted Lawson. “I was thinking that this is going to be like boot camp. There were going to be a lot of crazy things I’d have to do.”

Perhaps the biggest change was he would be five hours from home, with only opportunities on the weekend to visit home.

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“The first couple of weeks I really struggled with it,” Lawson said. “But I started getting used to it, and I knew what I had to do to get to Clemson.”

Hargrave’s school motto rests on four pillars. The first two are academics and character development. Lawson was a good kid, but school did not always come easy to him due in part to his lack of time management and organization. Both were addressed quickly at the military prep school.

“I was worried that it was going to be hard and it was going to be like boot camp,” Lawson said. “I was expecting them to be yelling all in your face, there’d be marching. It was crazy how I was thinking. When I got there it wasn’t as bad as I thought. There was marching. They didn’t really yell at you though. So it was a school first to get your grades up and they made you more accountable and more of a man.”

Shoes had to be shined, faces had to be shaved every day, beds had to be made tight and you had to march for an hour before breakfast. And it all began with early morning wake up calls.

“Yes sir, 5:30 in the morning,” recalled Lawson. “You’d go to bed at like 12 because you’d have a minimum of two hours of study hall. I was used to getting up. I never had a problem getting up. Once you hear that bell going off you just get up or they’ll come by and start beating on your door. I just wanted to get up before they started doing that.”  

The set routine was a healthy change for Lawson, and interacting with the same faculty, fellow students and teammates every day only strengthened the bond.

“You came to know the guys you were with every day,” he said. “Twenty-four hours you were with the same guys constantly every day, so you build a great relationship with the guys around you.”

After two weeks Lawson felt he had adjusted to the daily regimen, so much so that he took on a leadership role.

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“I started being more accountable,” said Lawson. “I ended up being a first sergeant there. So when I got used to it things came easier.”

Good behavior meant you could go home on the weekend after completing a two-hour study hall on Saturdays.  

“I made sure I was good all the time,” Lawson said, eager to help his mom with his younger brothers and sisters back in Central, South Carolina. “If you got in trouble you had to carry a rifle on your shoulder and march the square for four hours. It was crazy.”

Lawson wasn’t the only top flight athlete enrolled at Hargrave. On his football team were fellow college prospects like Leonard Floyd, who would go on to Georgia before being a top 10 pick this past week. There were a handful of other Division I prospects as well as some players trying to gain exposure on a team that constantly had recruiters visiting.

“We had other guys there too who went to Hargrave just trying to get a college scholarship and make it,” said Lawson. “So we were trying to help those guys out and get them good looks knowing coaches were coming to visit us.”

It was only six months, but Lawson built some lasting friendships at the prep school. So much so that leaving proved difficult.

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“Once I got used to it… it sounds crazy, but I didn’t want to leave when I went to Clemson,” he said. “I wanted to stay because you build such a great relationships with all the teachers, the military stuff. They stayed on you with your studies and making sure your assignments were complete. They gave you a lot of work, but I knew what I had to do to get to Clemson.”

Equipped with the necessary credits for the class he was missing along with a required test score, Lawson arrived on the Clemson campus feeling like he was ahead of the game rather than a wide-eyed freshman.

“The discipline helped me out a lot. When I got to Clemson it was easy,” he said. “When I first got there I felt like I was a junior or a senior because I was used to getting up early. I just made the most of my opportunity. When you get there some freshmen don’t make the most of their opportunity. They have little mess ups, but coming from Hargrave and going to Clemson you want to make the most of your opportunity. You don’t want to go back to that military lifestyle.”