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On Record with TN: Q&A with a High School Athletic Director during COVID-19

Uncertain times call for unconventional approaches.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

If the name Fort Lauderdale High School (Flying L’s) Athletic Director T.J. Lawrence is familiar, it’s because he gave us his up close and personal, behind the scenes peek and his review of Mike Norvell’s first FSU Junior Day, with his outstanding contribution to TN last March with “On Record with TN: High school athletic director talks FSU football recruiting effort (An inside look at the recruiting experience.)”

I asked Mr. Lawrence if he would take some time to answer some questions on what the life of a high school Athletic Director has been like during these tough times, and we also touched on some other topics.

Here are T.J.’s answers to my questions.

Q: What is happening right now in your program, and in high school sports in terms of what you can or cannot do? When are you starting football practice? Full contact expected approximately when, provided all goes well? First game scheduled for?

Broward County Public Schools actually just started voluntary conditioning yesterday September 21st. For the next three weeks we will be conducting these voluntary workouts for the fall sports student athletes to get them in shape and more importantly heat acclimated for when the first official practice starts on October 12th. As of right now, if our numbers hold still in terms of cases, we will begin our season starting on October 29th (Thursday) and October 30th (Friday).

Q: How difficult was it for you keep up with the coaches of all the sports under your leadership as AD during these past few unique months?

For us here at Ft. Lauderdale High School, that was the easy part. My coaches here are amazing and we have all become personal friends throughout the years. We talked to each other a lot over the last 5-6 months just checking in on each other and our families. Its cliche I know, but my coaches are like a family to me.

During the school year, I spend more time with them than I do my own family, just ask my wife. lol. But their well-being is just as important to me as the students are. It all trickle down and we all look out for each other and in turn always have the kids’ best interest at heart.

Can’t always talk about X’s and O’s, we often just talk about life and family. I really appreciate and love the environment here at Ft. Lauderdale High School. It’s not always about sports, we try to make it about the overall person whether it be a coach or student

I have 2 daughters (twins) who are 1st year students at Florida State and my football coach has 2 first year students (1 at FAMU and the other at FAU ) so we talk all the time about just being fathers and what’s going on with the kids up in Tallahassee in regards to the college transition during Covid.

Q; Please share how coaches and staff tried to monitor your players S&C during your time apart?

In all honesty, we didn't due any strength and conditioning as Broward County Public Schools and the BCAA didn't permit it. Some individual student athletes took it upon themselves to workout and get in shape but they were not directed, monitored, or set up by our coaches. Same thing with team meetings held virtually. They were not permitted for a time, but now are as we get ramped up for our season.

We were however, and my coaches here at Ft. Lauderdale High School did a tremendous job at keeping in contact with their kids for well being checks and making sure all of our kids were safe both physically and mentally. We always wanted our kids to know their mental well being was important to us.

I am really proud of my coaches with how they handled everything. During these times it was more important for the kids to know people were thinking about them and contacting them even if virtually to let them know the coaches cared. Even though everybody was isolated, we needed them to know they had somebody there for them to reach out to. I was more concerned about their mental health than physical.

Q: What is being recommended, and what precautions are your program implementing regarding students, athletes, teachers, and staff returning to as safe of an environment as possible under these uncertain times?

I can’t speak of the teachers and staff as that is above my pay grade and for somebody else to come up with a plan. Broward County Public schools is still 100% online and I believe the district is coming up with their plans for our inevitable return.

As for athletics, its been a little tough as I am sure it is for everybody. Seems like details, dates of return, and guidelines were changing everyday. It almost came to the point where I didn't want the updates and just wanted them to tell me the end result. But as we got closer to the 9/21 conditioning date, things got finalized as to how we would plan as a county to bring the student athletes back. Each school had to come up with their own plans for their specific site. The plan addresses everything under the sun in regards to social distancing, masks, working out in small, specific, and consistent pods, to temperature and O2 level checks, protocols for an infected player, etc.

Q: What are the latest projections you have heard regarding the upcoming football season and any contingencies you can discuss?

Like I said first day of official practice in Broward County (Public Schools) is October 12th and the games starting on the 29th. We will not be participating in the FHSAA state series as we just didn't have enough time after our delayed start. As of right now, I believe their may be a tri-county (Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach) championship the top teams. If you don’t make those playoffs, I believe their will be a “bowl” set up where you would play 2 more games against similar talent and record schools. So I believe if I am not mistaken we will have 6 regular season games, then playoffs or 2 additional ”bowl” games. So a total of 8 we are hoping for. As for contingency plans, that again is above my pay grade and something the county can speak on.

Q: Have you, your coaches, or any of your players had any communication from any FSU coach (any sport) during these past few months?

Actually my coach, Richard Dunbar has been in Contact with Coach Norvell and Ron Duggans recently regarding:

Germnauel Tanelus, 5’10,” 183 pound running back

Dequan Williams, 6’3,” 175 pound athlete/wide receiver (currently has Kentucky and Utah State offers)

Three-star Jahmal Edrine, 6’3,” WR (FAU Commit)

Q: Are there any athletes in other sports within your program that are considering or being courted by any of the FSU athletic departments?

Yes, we also have a fantastic long distance runner (Michael Fiore for Cross Country) that is in constant contact with the FSU coaches as well

Q: Please describe what your process is for interacting with College coaches/recruiters, as an Athletic Director? How do they approach you and please share any personal stories you would like to share about your best and worst interactions with college coaches/recruiters?

I am a realist. Many of the coaches that walk through our doors aren’t here to see me and will forget my name after they say hello. They are here to talk to my student athletes and my head coaches. I may greet them and escort them to the meeting rooms and along the way have some small talk, but none of this is about me. So in the best interest of the kid I let the coaches who spend countless hours with them do the talking on behalf of the student athletes.

Now all of that got thrown out of the window when Odell Haggins came. I just turned into a fan boy. Dude is a legend in my eyes, only after Coach Bowden for me as men of importance for FSU football through the years. That one I may have hung around a little bit more for and taken some pictures with him.

But I give my head football coach, Richard Dunbar, all the credit in the world. He is a true champion for these kids here at Ft. Lauderdale High School. We have traditionally not been a very strong football program. But we have made the state playoffs in 3 of the last 4 years and our football players just love him.

He is so knowledgeable not just at the game of football and life, but is very knowledgeable when it comes to everything NCAA and recruiting. He is so good that he has pretty much taken over that responsibility for all of our athletes, not just Football. Now we have every major college walking in our doors looking at our kids. I can’t say enough about Coach Dunbar and what he means to the Flying Ls community.

Q: When college coaches and their recruiting staff come and make their pitches, what type of things stand out for you personally, and what do you think stands out to the players? What makes the best impression on you, your staff, and your players, when interacting with a college coach or recruiter?

Quite simply: Honesty, energy, and professionalism. Its all about the personal relationship they can build. Kids and their families want to know they will be told the truth and if they commit they will be taken care of as a person and not just an athlete. Kids get a bad rap, they aren’t stupid and they know their needs and wants. So in the end honesty and energy go a long way. Their BS radar is on point and they can see it coming a mile away. If they think you are being dishonest with them, they will cut you off in a heart beat and look in a different direction.

Strong and True,

White and Blue,

Go Flying L’s

Go Noles c/o 1996

Ft. Lauderdale HS Athletic Director T.J. Lawrence and one of his twin daughters, Kylie c/o’24

The Tomahawk Nation staff is very grateful to T.J. for taking the time to answer our questions during these challenging time. Also, good luck to his lovely twin daughters who are newly enrolled at FSU. Many thanks, AD Lawrence, and Go Flying L’s.