Today is July 17, 2019, which means we are officially just 45 days away from the Virginia Tech Hokies opening the college football season at Boston College. In recent days we have focused on the defensive side of the ball, but today, for No. 45, we take a look back at Cyrus Lawrence, the all-time leading rusher in Virginia Tech history.
Before Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans or David Wilson, there was the consistently terrific Lawrence who was a Hokie from 1979-82. Lawrence replaced another Hokie great, Roscoe Coles, who played with the Hokies from 1974-77 and was Tech’s all-time leading rusher before Lawrence ultimately broke his record.
As a freshman in 1979, Lawrence played in every game, carrying the ball 177 times for 791 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry and was primed for a record-breaking career. Lawrence teamed up with Kenny Lewis during 1979 and Lewis also rushed for 748 yards and averaged over five yards per attempt. For as well as Tech could run the ball in ‘79, the Hokies still finished a disappointing 5-6.
In 1980, Lawrence played in every game, carrying the ball 271 times for 1,221 yards and eight touchdowns. He again averaged 4.5 yards per attempt. With Lewis gone, Lawrence received all of the attention of opposing defenses and still dominated. The Hokies improved to 8-4 that season behind Lawrence.
As a junior in 1981, Lawrence shattered numerous Tech rushing records. He would run the ball an astounding 325 times for 1,403 yards, then a school record, and eight more scores. Kevin Jones would eventually break his single-season rushing record in 2003 and Wilson broke Jones’ record in 2011. Lawrence’s single-season rushing record stood for 24 years which is super impressive. The Hokies would go 7-4 in 1981.
In Lawrence’s senior season of 1982, he would break Coles’ career rushing record, surpassing his 3,459 yards set just five years earlier. On the season, Lawrence would only play in five games, carrying the ball 70 times for 352 yards and five touchdowns. For his career, Lawrence rushed 843 times for 3,767 yards, 30 touchdowns and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt. All impressive numbers. He also had the distinction of rushing for 100 yards in a game 16 different times.
Sure, we can argue that if Jones played one more season he would own VT’s rushing record. But that didn’t happen. Jones was great, Lawrence was too. Both have their rightful places in Virginia Tech’s record books and will always be remembered as terrific players who gave Hokie fans in each era memories that will last a lifetime.
Lawrence was a special player who had the rare combination of size, speed, power and ability to run through defenders or take it to the house. Virginia Tech fans in different generations have been fortunate enough to see many outstanding running backs and Lawrence, along with Coles, were the first two.
The most unfortunate aspect of Lawrence’s career was that all of the carries he received at Virginia Tech took a toll on his knees and he was not drafted into the NFL, nor did he ever receive one carry. It is unfortunate. In today’s game, Lawrence’s workload would be more managed and he would be able to have an NFL career.
Lawrence was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and will always be a legend in Blacksburg.