Shaq Lawson knew too much about what he was getting into not to be nervous.
Having grown up in and around Clemson, he knew all about the Valley. He knew all about the expectations and the noise and the run down the Hill.
And he knew a little about Georgia's Bulldogs, too.
So when defensive coordinator Brent Venables called Lawson's number early in the first quarter Saturday night, the first-year freshman swallowed his jitters, stepped on the field, and did what he's always done best - rush the passer.
By the end of the evening, Lawson had logged 30 snaps - third most among Clemson's defensive ends behind starters Corey Crawford and Vic Beasley - and had made three tackles, while affecting more than a dozen plays.
"He was nervous, but he’s got a bright future and he loves to play and he’s physical," said Venables of the former Daniel High standout and Independent Mail area player of the year. "He’s going to be alright."
Helping settle Lawson's nerves was the presence of former Daniel High teammate DeShawn Williams, who on occasion lined up directly beside Lawson across from Georgia's veteran offensive line.
"I had talked to DeShawn all week, asking him about how it was going to be out there," Lawson said. "He told me not to be nervous and just go out there and play.
"It felt great to be playing with DeShawn again. It felt like we were back in high school, right beside each other. We never got the chance to play for a championship at Daniel. Now that we're here, we feel like we have a chance to play for a national championship."
First things first, Lawson said he tried to make sure he didn't stumble coming down the Hll.
"I was a little nervous running down the Hill - I wanted to make sure I didn't fall," he said. "So I walked, kind of...When I got out on the field, it was different than it is as a recruit. It was so loud sometimes I couldn't even hear any plays."
So Lawson did what comes naturally - he gave maximum effort every snap - and Venables kept calling his number. Assessing his own performance, Lawson said, "I'd give myself a 'B.'"
"I gave great effort the whole time I was out there," he said. "I feel like I gave it all I had."
The road to his first game in Death Valley didn't come easy for Lawson, who had planned to make his debut a year ago. When he narrowly missed qualifying for freshman admission, he ended up at Hargrave Military Prep School in Chatham, Va. for a semester. There he was rated as the No. 1 prep school prospect in the nation, but he never wavered from his Clemson commitment.
"It was tough at first, because it's a military school and that was kind of hard for me," Lawson said. "I wasn't used to getting up so early...But I just had to deal with it and suck it up for six months. I'd get up at 5 in the morning, after going to bed about 10 or 11 at night. It was a grind."
He enrolled at Clemson in January and had the benefit of going through spring practice. During preseason camp, he picked up where he left off and earned a spot in the Tigers' defensive end rotation for the opener.
"I came into fall camp ready and focused, and stayed on top of the playbook all the time," Lawson said. "I competed and I had great scrimmages."
Now he finds himself as a regular for the nation's fourth-ranked team. He said his older teammates are making sure he doesn't get ahead of himself.
"We've got some great leaders on our defense - guys like Stephone (Anthony) and (Spencer) Shuey and Corey (Crawford)," Lawson said. "Corey stays on me a lot, telling me to keep going and keep working.
"I'm planning on going out every week and working to get better, working on my technique. As a team, we just have to come in and play every week the same, as if we were at the bottom of the top 25. We've got to bring the same energy we played with against Georgia."
He admits, though, that Clemson's campus is a pretty electric place these days.
"We're getting a lot of love from teachers and other students," Lawson said. "They believe in us. They think we're going to win it all."