ATHENS — Kirby Smart wasn’t sure if Lawrence Cager could play last week, but he knew he wanted the senior grad-transfer from Miami on the trip to play Florida, as much to be in the meeting room and exert his leadership.
Cager, with separated shoulder and bruised ribs, had it in his mind he was going to help his teammates save their season against the hated Gators. He had seen Georgia fall to South Carolina 20-17 in overtime after he was knocked out of that game in the first half, and struggle for 35 passing yards in a 21-0 win over Kentucky.
“I wasn’t going to miss this game for anything,” Cager said after delivering a 7-catch, 132-yard performance that included a 52-yard TD catch.
Smart wasn’t going to miss giving Cager a celebratory embrace in the locker room after.
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) November 5, 2019
Here’s the story of how Cager wound up playing in Athens, from a story that originally appeared on May 19 after DawgNation visited him in South Florida:
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The symmetry appears uncanny on the surface, but Lawrence Cager’s football journey has been filled with twists and turns.
Ultimately, Cager believes, fate has brought him to where he belongs and needs to be.
Cager hosted Georgia receiver J.J. Holloman when Holloman visited Miami as a prospect in November of 2016.
A little more than two years later, Holloman was Cager’s host in Athens, Ga., for the Hurricane receiver’s visit last February.
The two hit it off so well that they’re going to be roommates when Cager arrives in Athens on May 28 with business degree in hand and a national championship on his mind.
“J.J. is like family to me,” Cager told DawgNation last weekend. “Out of high school, I wanted to be a Georgia Bulldog from the jump.”
(Note: Hollomon would be dismissed less than a month later, making Cager’s addition even more significant)
Cager has impact player written all over him, ready for a break-out season after a career-high 21 catches for 374 yards last season.
Smart said more than once he’s concerned about the Georgia receiver position after four of the top five pass catchers from last season moved on.
Cager is already on NFL radar, his 6-foot-5, 218-pound frame and impressive jumping ability leading to a team-high six TDs in 2018 at Miami.
It’s fair to assume Cager will be in the Red Zone mix at Georgia.
Cager was recruited to Miami by current Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley, choosing the Hurricanes over Alabama and playing the 2015 season with Coley as his coordinator.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Cager said. “I’m here now with the coach I loved at Miami (Coley), and the coach I loved at Alabama (Kirby Smart), so I couldn’t ask to be in a better position.”
Growing up in baseball-crazy Baltimore, Cager fancied himself a future major leaguer and didn’t take football serious entering into his freshman year at Calvert Hall College High School in Maryland.
Former five-time all-star Tori Hunter came to watch Cager hit when he was in eighth grade, and Lawrence’s high school coach was a regional scout for the Detroit Tigers. All signs pointed to baseball.
Until they didn’t.
Cager played football as a freshman “just to have fun” when coach Devin Redd, the CEO and co-founder of Baltimore’s Next Level Nation, altered Cager’s life with his observation.
“Devin Redd said I could play on Sundays,” Cager said. “He told me ’you have something people don’t have; you move like a 5-foot-11 guy but you’re 6-5.”
Cager scored 15 touchdowns and had more than 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman before moving up to varsity as a sophomore, a three-sport athlete also playing basketball and baseball.
“Lawrence’s ascent began when he came into high school,” Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis said. “He wasn’t sure what direction he would go in; he dabbled in baseball, at one point thought about soccer, and he was a very good at baseball.”
Then Cager decided to go out for track his junior year, and he ended up at the Penn Relays and Nationals, clearing 6-foot-11.
By then, however, Cager had decided on football.
“I knew football would take me where I needed to go,” Cager said, “when I got my first offers from Oregon State and Toledo my sophomore year.”
A strong showing at a Nike Camp in New Jersey led Cager to receive an invite to The Opening in 2014. Future Georgia receiver Terry Godwin was also there.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer invited Cager to the Buckeyes’ famed “Friday Night Lights” recruiting event, and Cager and his family were so impressed that he made a silent commitment on July 25, 2014.
Cager already had an Alabama offer in hand, and then Michigan State offered, along with Notre Dame, Miami, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Nebraska.
Cager found himself intrigued and wanted to take visits, particularly to the Top 5 Mississippi State-Alabama matchup in 2014.
“The fact I wanted to visit there told me I didn’t need to be committed,” Cager said. “I wanted to see other schools before I could know.”
Cager’s parents were pushing for Wake Forest because of the academics there, so the Deacons got the first official visit followed by Virginia Tech, and then Cager’s visit to the Michigan-Ohio State game.
Cager headed to the U.S. Army All-American Game thinking he wanted to go to Alabama, while his parents were still encouraging him to go to Wake Forest.
Cager told the CBS team at the U.S. Army All-American Game he was going to commit to Alabama, live at halftime, during the Jan. 3 broadcast.
But behind the scenes Cager’s parents were telling hm to re-think it; there was uncertainty over whether offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would be returning to the staff the next season.
“It was a tough phone call to Nick Saban,” Cager said of the days leading up to the game.
Once game day arrived, Cager had an issue on his hands: A spot on CBS to commit before a live national audience, but uncertainty as to which school that would be.
“During warm-ups before the game, I was trying to figure out which school I’m going to commit to,” Cager said. “So while everyone else is on the field getting ready to play, I was in the shower room calling schools … some were answering, but they said they’d already had a commitment or were full at the position.”
That included Georgia when Cager reached out to Mark Richt.
“They told me they were full, because Jayson Stanley had committed,” Cager said. “Coach Coley was the only one at a school I liked who would take my commit.
“He said, ‘Change the game!’’ “
Cager’s coach told then-Miami head coach AL Golden that it was a TV commit. Cager was scheduled to visit Alabama the following Saturday, and then he’d visit Miami.
“So I committed on TV to Miami without ever being in Miami in my life,” Cager said, laughing at the naivety of his youth. “It’s funny how God works, because that’s how he put Coach Coley in my life.”
Until he wasn’t.
Lawrence Cager’s upside has him on NFL radar. Rob Floyd/ Getty Images
The Richt Years
The score was 58-0 on Oct. 25, 2015, Clemson handing Miami the worst loss in the Hurricanes’ 90-year football history.
“I know it isn’t far from outhouse to penthouse,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, according ESPN.
“I don’t celebrate anything from Miami’s bad day. I feel for him. I hate it, man.
Hurricanes’ coach Al Golden hated it even more when he was fired the next day, making way for Larry Scott to assume interim duties.
Miami won the remainder of the regular season games, but the Hurricanes elected to go with suddenly available Richt, a school alum who had parted ways with Georgia.
Cager couldn’t wait to build off his freshman season, but then things took a turn for the worst — specifically, his knee.
“I tore my ACL on the last play, on the last day of the last week of 7on -7 drills before camp, back in July of 2016 going into my sophomore season,” Cager said. “I was determined to come back quicker than they projected, so I was in the training room from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day until I could walk.”
Cager was walking in two weeks and running in three months, ready for spring drills, but Richt held him out as a precaution.
The 2017 season, however, was at best “up and down” Cager said.
“You think you won’t think about it (surgically repaired knee), but it’s in the back of your head, that what if I do this, or I do that, and I might hurt it again,” Cager said.
Finally recovered, Cager was ready for a big redshirt junior season in 2018, but the Hurricanes’ offense struggled.
The quarterback position was a revolving door, and the lack of consistency under center translated to a hot-and-cold passing game.
Richt stepped down after the season, and Cager decided to exercise his eligibility as a graduate transfer.
Georgia, with Coley recently promoted to offensive coordinator, was the first to call.
“Kirby was like, ‘I’m not going to lose you this time, right?’ “ Cager said. “ ‘You’re going to come home now.’
“My mind went to Athens as soon as I made a decision to be a Bulldog, I felt right at home.”
DawgNation in South Florida
Lawrence Cager with DawgNation