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Defensive lineman Rashard lawrence, center, salutes the crowd after being interviewed onstge by Jacob Hester, right, running back on LSU's 2007 season national championship team, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020 at the parade and celebration at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center marking LSU's 42-25 national championship win in football over Clemson.

Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of excerpts from The Advocate’s upcoming book, “LSU BY THE NUMBERS,” celebrating the best player (and other greats) to wear each number in Tigers football history. This week: No. 90, Rashard Lawrence.

Rashard Lawrence had a big decision to make in January 2019.

He had just earned defensive MVP honors in LSU’s 40-32 Fiesta Bowl victory over Central Florida with a suffocating performance: five tackles, four for losses, including two sacks.

But knee surgery awaited. Lawrence could cash in on his football future, or he could risk another major injury and return for what looked like a promising senior season.

One by one throughout the offseason, draft-eligible Tigers like Breiden Fehoko, Kristian Fulton and Michael Divinity announced their intentions to return for their senior season. Fehoko lobbed a lobbying effort in Lawrence’s direction.

“You only get one chance at winning a college football national championship,” Fehoko said in March. “Why not do it?”

Lawrence was convinced. And despite another injury, an ankle problem in Week 2 against Texas that forced him to miss three games, Lawrence was an important player in LSU’s drive to the 2019 CFP national championship. He played 12 games, starting 11, with 28 tackles to earn All-SEC honors.

Born in 1998, Lawrence’s life has always centered on football. His father, Ronald Lawrence, and his twin brother, Donald, played together at Carroll High School and then UL-Monroe in the 1970s. Their younger brother, Oliver Lawrence, played linebacker for LSU in the 1980s.

When Rashard was but 3, he would cry not for toys or food, but for football.

“I want football!” his mother, Agnes Lawrence, recalled him hollering. A family photo shows Rashard as a young boy, having fallen asleep with the football he had been grasping lying next to him.

Another photo showed a young Rashard in LSU gear. But when he became a five-star prospect from Neville High School, LSU had to fend off schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn and Georgia to get him.

“He was a must-get,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.

And a must-keep leading up to the 2019 season.

Lawrence was one of LSU’s record-tying 14 NFL draft picks in 2020, going in the fourth round to the Arizona Cardinals.

“I’ve seen him go from a boy to a man,” Ronald Lawrence said. “He’s done everything I could ever want him to do.”

To pre-order “LSU BY THE NUMBERS” and receive a $10 discount off the $39.95 cover price through Nov. 30, please visit www.LSU.PictorialBook.com. The book will be shipped Dec. 4.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com