After playing for the Auburn Tigers for three years, Carl Lawson was selected in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2021, Lawson signed a contract to join the New York Jets as a free agent. Unfortunately, an unexpected achilles injury stopped him from playing that season. This year, Lawson is healthy and a big part of the Jets’ successful 5-2 start to begin the 2022 campaign. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to speak with Carl Lawson, where we were able to discuss the Jets, the 2022 season, and life. Below is the transcript of our conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Thomas Christopher: In 2021, you chose to sign with the Jets during free agency. Was there any specific reason you chose the Jets? Whether it be money, the environment, or head coach Robert Saleh? What made you decide to choose the Jets?
Carl Lawson: It was everything you just said. I was looking at the team months before and I had seen that coach Saleh took the job. I saw the character, and the way that everyone around the league was talking about him; the grit, you know, all of those kinds of things led to me wanting to play for a coach like that. Another thing is of course a good money situation, but my family is also from that area. My mother is from New Jersey, and my father migrated from Jamaica to come to New York. I also wanted to grow with something new. It’s a whole new staff coming in, so it’s kind of like you’re more of a draft pick than a free agent already going to another team that’s kind of already established. Here you’re kind of growing together, and I wanted to build something from the ground up together. So that’s why I chose New York.
TC: It’s cool to know that your family is originally from this area. I didn’t know that and I’m sure most fans didn’t, either. Unfortunately, before you were ever able to suit up in an actual game for the team, you ended up tearing your achilles. Was the achilles tear the hardest thing you ever had to come back from? If not, what was?
CL: This definitely was the hardest thing to come back from. Mentally it was the hardest just because of the shape I was in and the level of play that I was playing at. The rehab process was the most grueling thing I’ve ever had to go through. But I’m going to be stronger for it in the long run.
TC: How long did it take for you to be completely confident in your body’s ability to withstand the workload of football, day in and day out?
CL: It took me all the way up until midway through camp. That’s when I started to get more confidence. It wasn’t just to get back to where I was, the process isn’t something you can really work through. That’s what makes it harder. I put in hours, I put in the time. But a lot of the time it’s just sitting and waiting. And when you’re sitting and waiting a lot of other things in the body start to mess up. It seemed like taking one step back to go two steps forward. If I could’ve just trained my injury that would’ve been awesome. But that’s not the case. Sometimes you just have to sit down and that’s the hardest part. That was the hardest part of the achilles rehab.
TC: Well you’re starting off the season great. I know the fans are happy and I’m sure you’re probably happy as well. Are there any goals that you have for this season?
CL: I just want to be available and productive for every game. Of course the goal is to always get 10 sacks every season you play in the league. But those are the two goals that I have for this year. I haven’t really been saying the last couple of years, so I’m just going to put it out there.
TC: How do you choose to attack a tackle on any given play? Is it based on their set, their moves, down and distance, film tendencies?
CL: I kind of do all that stuff. But I think I play my best game when I just play like Carl. It’s more of an attack style. There’s a lot of times where I think, ‘I gotta do this if he does this’, but that’s sometimes when I play my worst football. I study to look at cues to see what they’re doing. After a while, I have enough moves in my arsenal to match what he does. I study everything to give myself tips and cues. There’s really not much different, I always try to impose my will to what I’m doing.
TC: As a kickboxing coach there were some drills that I loved doing and others that I hated. Do you have any drills in practice that you love, or hate?
CL: I mean I love everything about football, but there isn’t any particular drill I like the most. But I don’t like the fumble drill. You know you gotta get on it, cradle it and get on the ground and get in like a fetal position. It helps, you know, but in practice it isn’t really the funnest drill. That’s my least favorite drill if I had to pick.
TC: Other than being drafted and making it to the NFL, what’s your proudest moment in your football career, and what is one moment that you wish you could take back?
CL: First off I will say that there really isn’t any moment that I would take back because I believe everything happens for a reason. But my proudest moment is probably the 4th and 1 stop for Auburn against Alabama and TJ Yeldon, which set up the ‘Kick Six’. I did that as a Freshman. So that’s always in my mind. I’m going to tell my kids, my grandchildren about that play. 4th and 1, I helped set up the Kick Six; so that was my biggest play.
TC: Oh yeah, everyone knows about that one. It was an awesome play. Do you have any hobbies outside of football?
CL: Yes I love to watch anime, I love to play video games, and I love to eat. I’m a big foodie. New York is definitely a place with a ton of food and different cultures. Those are pretty much my biggest hobbies.
TC: Do you have a favorite anime?
CL: Of course everything started with Dragon Ball Z, but I love a lot of them. Dragon Ball Z kicked if off. I wouldn’t say it’s the overall best per se, but it’s the best because it’s the OG - it’s the one that got me into everything.
TC: You said you’re also a big foodie. Do you cook yourself, browse the restaurants? And do you have a personal nutritionist or anything like that as well?
CL: I do have a chef. When I’m home in Florida she’ll cook for me there, and then send me meals up here. But that’s more for health sometimes too. She makes good healthy meals. But I’m always trying all types of food. So if I go to a restaurant and they have a crazy menu I want to try everything. I won’t eat everything, but I’ll go about trying everything. And I go and eat by myself all the time, I don’t care. And people look at me crazy because I order like 10 different things. I’ll get boxes ready because I just want to try stuff. I love just going out and trying different foods. I’ve cooked before too, but I really don’t have the time for it.
TC: What are your plans after your NFL career?
CL: I either want to go into coaching or do something fitness related, like UFC type of stuff or grappling. It has to be something where I can be in an active environment. I want to keep being athletic. I want to coach, but I don’t want to sit there and become lazy. I really want to coach because I have a passion for it. I really want to be a GM because I have a passion for it. But I don’t want that to sacrifice getting in the way of me being healthy and active in life, you know? Those are my options, but I’m not really sure.
TC: Tying into that, you said you had a personal chef. Do you watch your weight at all during the season or is that something you really only worry about in the offseason?
CL: No I watch my weight, especially coming back from injury. I’m just trying to do everything that I can to get back to full strength. I definitely watch my weight, more so recently. She sends me meals and all of them contain my macros, you know, my carbs, fats and proteins on it. All down to a science.
TC: That’s awesome. One final question from me. Is there any advice that you’d like to give to players aspiring to play in the NFL?
CL: Don’t quit. There were a lot of times I’ve felt like it. Just don’t quit. If you gotta go, go and reach it. Sometimes it can be hard or it could seem like things could never happen, but you never know unless you try. You’ll never feel bad about doing the best you could have done. That’s my advice to anybody who has a dream.
TC: I love that. Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me, I greatly appreciate it.