APPOMATTOX — Tre Lawing remembers the atmosphere at Salem Football Stadium well.

On that Sunday in 2017, the Appomattox Raiders had captured a state title, their third straight.

Lawing was there for the celebration, as players embraced family members and friends and posed for photos. He, like the others players, donned the pads and helmet and suited up in Appomattox blue, but back then, Lawing’s job didn’t include stepping onto the field. For that trip to Salem, Lawing, a member of the junior varsity team at the time, fell into a support role as he stood on the sideline cheering the varsity squad on as it took on R.E. Lee.

Seeing friends and coaches accomplish the three-peat was satisfying, but for Lawing, there was more to be done. The win was an appetizer, an inspiration.

He wanted a ring of his own.

“Just seeing how excited they were to be able to win one,” Lawing, now the leader of the Raiders’ offense at quarterback, said, “that’s my motivation every day.”

This year, Lawing looks to finish off his sophomore campaign — during which he’s feasted on every opportunity opposing defenses have given him — with a little icing on top and the sweet taste of a victory in the state championship. The sophomore QB and the Raiders take on Stuarts Draft at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Salem Football Stadium for the Class 2 title.

If Appomattox is to win a fourth title in five years — and Lawing and the rest of the sophomore and freshman classes are to pick up the ring they missed out on last year, when they lost in the region championship — Lawing must continue putting on the types of performances he has in the last several weeks.

Take last Saturday’s semifinal game against Graham, for example. On that day, Lawing accounted for all four of the Raiders’ touchdowns.

Known first for his rushing ability, Lawing showed his versatility by throwing three long touchdown passes. Then, he delivered the dagger on a short run in the fourth quarter.

The sophomore’s abilities in both the run and pass game were obvious last year, when he took over as a freshman for a talented JaVon Scruggs. But teammates and coaches say they’ve seen significant improvement in his game since then.

Jamal Wheeler, a senior left guard who also starts on the defensive side at nose guard, has been in the trenches in front of both Scruggs and Lawing. The two quarterbacks are similar, Wheeler said, but what the senior lineman especially likes about Lawing is his knowledge of the game.

“He knows what every lineman has to do,” Wheeler said, explaining Lawing understands where to go on every play call.

Wheeler added Lawing’s ability to use both his legs and his arm — and the work Lawing put in in the offseason to become a better dual-threat QB — has been on display this year, too, as he’s racked up 958 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground and 1,226 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air.

“I’ve seen him improve a lot. A lot, a lot,” Wheeler said. “He throws the ball more, connects with his receivers more. … He’s patient, because he knows his O-line’s gonna hold it down for him.”

Appomattox football 36

Appomattox quarterback Tre Lawing tries to avoid Graham's Landon Atkins in the Class 2 state semifinal game Bragg Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.

Coach Dough Smith has seen his young QB mature in the past year, too.

“I can remember some games his freshman year where his hands were pretty sweaty,” Smith said with a smile. “Now, he doesn’t sweat quite so much.”

Lawing is the player who can execute the game plan, Smith explained, and is able to read the defense to effectively work out of the option-based split-back veer offense the Raiders run.

“We can communicate really well,” Smith added. “That’s really important for a coach and quarterback to be on the same page. And he can communicate my heart to the team without me having to do it all the time.”

There have been times, especially in the postseason, when Lawing not only is at the heart of the offense, but he’s also the heart of the entire Raiders team.

In the locker room, Lawing is a loud voice. The same rings true on the sideline, the area of the field he patrols before games as he implores the Appomattox crowd to get fired up. As much as moving the chains on the field is his job, Lawing also has taken on the responsibility of being the hype man for the Raiders.

“I like doing the job,” he said before practice Tuesday. “It’s pretty natural.”

Despite Lawing’s age — the sophomore is only 16 and doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet — the rest of the roster filled with juniors and seniors is fully behind him, because he is in it for the good of the team.

“JaVon, he liked his O-line,” said Wheeler, referring to the former ACHS quarterback who graduated in 2018. “And Tre, he loves his O-line.”

The Raiders now aim to follow Lawing’s model of selflessness, hard work and heart as they enter Salem on Saturday with another title on the line.

“He’s so young, and he’s getting it done,” said Colton Smith, a senior offensive and defensive lineman, “and it’s like ‘I can follow that guy.’ He sets the example for all of us.”

Photos: A look back at Appomattox Raiders football

Here's a look back at Appomattox Raiders football action from the past few years, including selections from their state championship wins in 2015 and 2016:

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Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529. 

Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.

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