How does a near-6'6", 16-year-old who can scratch his knees without bending over fly under the radar, especially in the social-era of recruiting?
The combination of a broken growth plate and COVID-19 have something to do with it.
As Sherando HS head coach Bill Hall explained it, three-sport standout (basketball, track) Keli Lawson was primed to attract a bevy of offers last fall. However, Lawson only played sparingly as a junior after the aforementioned summertime fracture to his knee. He didn't benefit from any developmental work in August or from sustained weekly practices.
"He would practice Wednesday and turn around and have a walk-through Thursday and then play on Friday," said Hall.
"The highlights that you see of him are of him never practicing, just showing up for four games on limited reps. That's what's a little deceiving about him. If he was actually healthy and could have been full-go and had a year to prepare and execute, he would have been really, really, really different."
No matter though. At the time, it seemed like merely a delay of the inevitable. Lawson used his limited reps to cobble together a highlight tape, but impressing in person on unofficial visits and at summer camps would springboard him to an influx of scholarships.
Unfortunately, that went out the window when Coronavirus froze the recruiting calendar. The NCAA mandated a dead period on March 18 which was recently extended through August 31.
"It was really the perfect storm for Keli," said Hall. "Last year, if he would've been healthy, he would have blown up. Now all of a sudden you have COVID. He's an immediate offer kid at any one-day [camp], at any school."
Lack of film and in-person evaluation might've netted Virginia Tech a throwback diamond in the rough recruit. Lawson, a 3-star (0.8366) athlete per the 247Sports Composite, committed to the Hokies on June 18. He also held a Virginia offer.
According to Hall, Tech wanted him to camp as a last checkpoint before offering.
"This kid is SEC-worthy, every bit of it, and he was flying under the radar," said Hall. "When I called [running backs] coach [Adam] Lechtenberg, and they knew about him, and they were recruiting him, but not like I thought they should. I talked with Coach [Justin] Fuente on the phone, and they got to know him, and we put some more videos out on Twitter so they could see some things that they were looking for. Things that you would've seen at a typical one-day, and you're just trying to get them glimpses of the skills that they see. And then you figure out the background, and all of a sudden it adds up to a kid that's really dynamic."
Although intrigued by the mismatch potential at tight end, Tech recruited Lawson as an outside linebacker. However, he may ultimately grow into a defensive end.
"His length is something that gives him huge advantages, and his wingspan gives him huge advantages, in terms of being able to cover space and work off of o-linemen," said Hall.
To put it into perspective, Lawson can enforce recommended social distancing, and then some, by stretching out his arms to an 82" wingspan. That length allows him to not only defend in the open field, but shed blockers in the trenches.
"He'll really develop once he can actually work on the skills that match his athleticism," said Hall. "He's really twitchy. He's fast, and really long as you can see by his measurements. He's probably closer to 6-6 than he is 6-5. I saw him listed at 6-4 and I was like, 'he passed 6-4 a long time ago.' He's just really long."
"He's got a frame where you can really put good weight on," he added. "Once he gets with Tech and can get in there, not only the strength program, but the nutrition, and slow down a little bit, and just focus on those aspects. His ceiling is really, really high."