For Central, South Carolina native Shaq Lawson, Buffalo's joint practices with the Panthers presented an opportunity.
Not only did the four-year defensive end get a chance to continue to develop his skills on the field in his home state, he could also engage with his community and those who have contributed to his success.
On Wednesday, Aug. 14, as the Bills were participating in their final practice at Wofford College in Spartanburg, a small town located just over an hour away from Central, Lawson had a group of special guests cheering him on. Invited on behalf of Lawson's foundation were over 40 children from Central and the surrounding areas. Joining the group was Lawson's mother, Rolitha Walker.
For Walker, who regularly lends a helping hand to the foundation, her son's genuine desire to make a positive difference comes as no surprise.
"When he first went into the NFL, that was the first thing he decided to do," she explained. "Just to give back to the community, with different children. This Christmas, it will be his fourth annual Christmas gift bag [giveaway]. So, he [does] a lot in our community with the children."
Lawson also had support from Christy Fuller – mother of C.J. Fuller, Lawson's best friend and former Clemson teammate who passed away unexpectedly in 2018.
"She has a foundation, the C.J. Fuller Foundation, so we just partnered together just to be out here today with the kids," explained Walker. "You know, C.J. and Shaq were like brothers. Every day, you would see C.J. It means a lot for us to come together, just to help out in our community with the children."
Decked out in Shaq Lawson Foundation t-shirts, the kids could hardly contain their excitement when they got to talk with Lawson, get his autograph and take pictures with him. Their jubilant spirits and smiles were enough to show Lawson the true and lasting power of his efforts.
"Because it's home, you know to start," said Lawson on why community outreach is important to him. "The community, they gave back to me first. So, it was just a great opportunity to get them to come see a practice. You know, [the] kids [have] probably never seen an NFL practice or an NFL team before. So, to have them come out – maybe [they were] a Carolina fan or a Buffalo fan – but just to see the smile on their face… [was special]."
In addition to the work Lawson does in the South, he is also an advocate in Western New York. Recently, Lawson took a group of teens to the Underground Railroad Heritage Center to learn more about the region's history and has already begun planning foundation events for the 2019 season.
"[The NFL] has given me a great platform to help," he said.
As for Walker, when asked how she feels to see her son remember his roots in such a meaningful way, she responded as any mom would.