Photo by Autumn Walter | JaJuan Lawson scrambles out of pocket vs. UNH.
By Nick Cardi and Tyler Krusz
The quarterback position is one of the most demanding and unique in all of sports. In no other team sport does the success start and end with just one player; it either thrives or crumbles. In the case of Rhode Island football, the team was thriving when redshirt senior JaJuan Lawson was under center.
When Lawson was under center the Rams were one of the most potent offenses in the Colonial Athletic Association. Between the records, stats and leadership Lawson displayed this season, he is the Cigar Sports Offensive MVP of the Rhode Island Football team.
Lawson was coming off a hot 2017 season where he took over the starting job in mid-October against Elon and never looked back. He continued his success and started this season with a strong game during the season opener at Delaware as his Rams upset the then No.15 team in the country. Lawson put the whole CAA on notice during the home opener against Albany as he threw for 317 yards and was the first Rhody quarterback to throw four touchdowns in a game since 2011.
Lawson didn’t stop either as he came back the next week and set a new career high as he threw for 351 yards against the University of Connecticut. He also threw another four scores as the Rams fell short to the Huskies 56-49.
Unfortunately, Lawson missed four and half games this season with a knee injury and the Rams went 2-2 in his absence. With Lawson in the Rams went 4-3 and he was a major reason why the Rams finished with a winning record for the first time in 17 years. Lawson finished with 1,728 yards through the air and threw for 17 touchdowns. He also added five scores on the ground.
One of the records Lawson set this year was the URI single-season completion record (66.7 percent). He also became only the second quarterback in Rhody history with at least 17 touchdown passes in one season. The only other quarterback to do so was Tom Ehrhardt, who did so twice. Lawson was second in the CAA with touchdown passes (17), fifth in passing yards (1,711), second in passing yards per game (244.4) and second in total offense per game (269.0)
For Lawson and the Rams, it was a season that no one will forget anytime soon. Lawson broke several Rhody records and earned second-team All-Conference. Although Lawson’s Rhode Island career is over, he has accepted an invitation to participate in the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Collegiate Bowl where he will play in front of multiple NFL scouts. The game is set for Jan. 19, 2019 at the Rose Bowl Stadium located in Pasadena California.
On the defensive side of the ball, Nas Jones takes home the Cigar Sports MVP honors for the 2018 University of Rhode Island football season.
Jones, a captain in his senior campaign, appeared in all 11 games at linebacker and led the squad in tackles with 78 total tackles on the season. He ended up with 211 tackles in his four years in Kingston, with 10.5 of them coming behind the line of scrimmage.
Overall, Jones finished the season with seven tackles per game, one sack, one interception which he returned for 19 yards, and four pass breakups.
He kept a steady pace all season, but his best game came on Homecoming Day. He recorded 12 total tackles, with one coming for a loss, and had a 19-yard interception return on the game as well. Jones was a staple in Rhody’s road win over Harvard, where quarterback JaJuan Lawson went down with a knee injury.
As Lawson was down for a chunk of the midseason games, the defensive unit needed to step up big-and Jones was there with them. He recorded his best games while Lawson was down, recording 8.4 tackles per game while his quarterback was sidelined. This included nine tackles at Harvard, seven against Brown, 12 against Maine, eight at Stony Brook and six against William and Mary University.
In the first year that Rhody finished above .500 since 2001, their defense was the X-factor in a lot of their victories. Nas Jones was the leader, both in the stat book and vocally, and it’s only right that he is the Cigar Sports Defensive MVP for 2018.