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All-Time UNC Football Top 25 Countdown: #6 Amos Lawrence

The Heels’ all-time leading rusher is in rare company.

Seven running backs in the history of NCAA Division 1 football have rushed for 1,000 or more yards in four seasons: Tyrell Fenroy (Louisiana-Lafayette), Denvis Manns (New Mexico State), Ron Dayne (Wisconsin), Tony Dorsett (Pittsburgh), Cedric Benson (Texas), Damion Fletcher (Souther Mississippi), and Amos Lawrence (UNC).

Reduce the list to Power 5 Conference teams and the list shrinks to 4: Dayne, Dorsett, Benson, and Lawrence. While he doesn’t quite have the name recognition that the other three do, Lawrence is arguably the best back in North Carolina history, showing up near the top of several records, including being UNC’s all-time leader in rushing attempts and yards.

Amos Lawrence

"Famous Amos" Lawrence is UNC’s career leader in rushing yards by a wide margin; Mike Voight in second place is 330 yards behind him. He also holds the record for number of attempts at 881. Additionally, he ranks in the top 10 in career rushing touchdowns (8th), scrimmage touchdowns (7th), and scrimmage yards (2nd). His career YPC average of 5.0 is 20th all-time for rushers with over 100 attempts. With three 200-yard games in his career, he is tied with Voight and Natrone Means for first in UNC history, and stands alone at the top with 23 100-yard games over his career.

His freshman season was his best in terms of numbers, as he went well above his career average in yards per carry and had his best year in terms of yardage. That season ranks 9th in UNC history for rushing yards and 5th for yards per carry average. His 286-yard game against Virginia that season is 3rd all-time in UNC history. However, his senior year was when he became a national presence, largely because of UNC’s success then, but also because he became an elite scorer that year. He was first in the ACC and third in the country total touchdowns that year with 15.

The most impressive thing about Lawrence, though, was his consistency. As mentioned before, Lawrence is one of very few running backs to have rushed for 1,000 yards in all four of his college seasons. Not many backs are able to do this as freshmen. Lawrence’s ability to excel as soon as he stepped on campus helped usher in one of UNC’s most prosperous eras in football.

In his sophomore year, North Carolina had to deal with losing their winningest head coach in Bill Dooley. They replaced him, of course, with Dick Crum, and while his first team finished the season with a mediocre 5-6 record, in Lawrence’s last two years, the Heels would go 19-4-1, win the Gator Bowl and Bluebonnet Bowl against football powerhouses, and, in 1980, win UNC’s last ACC Championship to date.

Lawrence’s seamless transition between coaches was vital for this near-immediate success, particularly for a coach like Crum, who prioritized the run game. Consider this: Lawrence is UNC’s career leader in rushing attempts, but holds only the 9th and 10th spots for attempts in a season and does not make the top 10 for attempts in any single game. This speaks to his game-in, game-out consistency as much as anything else in his resume.

Honors and Awards

Lawrence earned ACC Rookie of the Year in 1977 for his phenomenal freshman season. Other than that, though, recognition for him was slim, due to his being more consistently great than eye-poppingly phenomenal and the fact that most running backs at the time were overshadowed by Georgia’s Herschel Walker.

Best Games at UNC

As mentioned above, Lawrence had 3 200-yard games: one against Virginia (286 yards), one against NCSU (216), and one against Army (214). Interestingly, Lawrence was particularly effective against Virginia. He holds the UNC record for most rushing yards gained against a single opponent, with 635 over his career against Virginia.

After UNC

There aren’t many stranger post-career stories in UNC Football history than that of Amos Lawrence.

You wouldn’t know it from his incredibly consistent career, but Lawrence apparently dealt with injuries all throughout college. This on its own isn’t really news; look at the NFL and you’ll find that most running backs have some sort of nagging injury or other. It’s the nature of the position that running backs have to deal with pain when running. For some reason, despite the numbers he put up, Lawrence was perceived to be unable to play when injured. Lawrence believes his coaches sabotaged him, a charge that Dick Crum denies.

Because of these concerns, Lawrence fell to the 4th round, where he was picked by the San Diego Chargers and quickly traded to the San Francisco 49ers. He carved out a role as a returner, returning a kickoff for a touchdown as a rookie. That season, the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, and unfortunately, Lawrence fumbled the opening kickoff and was promptly benched for the remainder of the game. Although San Francisco won the Super Bowl regardless of that mistake, the team let Lawrence go in the ensuing offseason and he did not play in the NFL again.

Amos Lawrence’s life after the NFL is detailed here, and it’s worth a read.

Stats from sports-reference.com/cfb and UNC’s 2016-17 Media Guide.