Logan • Running his hands over his short-cropped hair, it’s easy for Nevin Lawson to remember the dreadlocks that used to be there.
It was an easy identifier for the senior cornerback. With his helmet off, he was instantly recognizable. But maybe Lawson wanted to shed a little bit his old self when he shaved them off before this season.
A closer look
Utah State senior cornerback Nevin Lawson:
» Leads the team with three interceptions, six pass break-ups
» Sixth on the team in tackles with 34
» Second-team all-WAC as a junior
» Started 35 games in his career
Hawaii at Utah StateSaturday, 2 p.m.
TV » CBS Sports Network
It marked a personal transformation: from college kid to a true professional. When he looks in the mirror, he’s reminded of the commitment he made.
"When I’m not feeling up to working, I always remind myself, what would a pro do?" Lawson said. "Would a pro relax right now, take a day off? Or would a pro put his best effort — even though you don’t feel like it but you know you have to."
Since 2010, Lawson has been as much a fixture on the field as the goalposts. He’s started 35 games for Utah State, making him one of the most experienced players in the program. In the past, he’s had his slip-ups and mistakes. When a yellow flag came out nearby, Lawson was often the culprit.
But as a senior, the new Nevin has been one of the best corners in the Mountain West. He’s always been a solid on tackling, and has 34 this year. But he’s also been better in the air, breaking up six passes while picking off three.
It’s even more impressive considering some of the receivers he’s played against: USC’s Marqise Lee, Boise State’s Matt Miller, BYU’s Cody Hoffman among them. Although he was burned in a few early season games, coaches say they’re seeing more and more progress from the senior leader in the Aggies’ secondary.
"He came here with a mission — first of all to graduate, which he will in December — but also to give himself a shot at the next level," cornerbacks coach Kendrick Shaver said. "He sees the light at the end of the tunnel, so he’s just turning it up."
Lawson is well-acquianted with the spoils of success: He saw it first-hand with the atmospheric rise of Will Davis last year from a junior college afterthought to an NFL Draft pick. Lawson was also around in the days of Curtis Marsh, who went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles.
He’s mindful that the time is coming when he’ll get a shot at the next level, and he’s made a point to study what others did to get there. That means watching film on his receivers until he knows their moves and tendancies better than they do. Shaver said Lawson often points out habits to him on film. That’s the blueprint other corners have followed, Lawson said.
"You have to see what they did, and what made them so successful," he said. "You don’t have to do what they did exactly. You can do your own way. But you can look at the things they did that were really good."
The biggest struggle of Lawson’s career has been his hands. Always aggressive, he was quick to get in for contact on receivers, which resulted in the flags that so often made Utah State fans sigh.
But the reality has been recently, Lawson hasn’t drawn much attention from officials. Against New Mexico, he was hit with a pass interference call, but it was his first penalty since playing USC.
"He’s really worked on his hands and just running with receivers," Shaver said. "He can do that: He’s the fastest guy on this team. He’s just so aggressive, and that’s part of it. But he’s cleaned up his hands, and that’s really helped him."
Lee was pretty quiet in the second half against him, and Miller and Hoffman each were non-factors. But Lawson doesn’t put notches in his belt, he just moves on to the next week. This week, Chris Gant — No. 9, Lawson calls him — will be in his sights.
The pros can wait.
"I’ve been working my butt off to get to that point," he said. "But that’s not my main thing right now. I’m trying to find a way to get my team these Ws, and if it’s up to God, hopefully get in this championship game."
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.