Pro Football Player Spends Offseason in DickinsonAn outside linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lawrence is stuck in limbo — which in this case, happens to be Dickinson — as he waits for the NFL owners and Player's Association to resolve their differences.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) — Drill after drill, Simoni Lawrence pushes himself up and down the turf at the Badlands Activities Center.
A lone figure in the stadium, Lawrence doesn't stop moving. He works on his agility, speed and overall movement. High knees, hip shuffles, weave and sprints, he does it all.
Lawrence is doing everything he can to be ready when he gets the call. The one that tells him the NFL lockout is over and he gets to play football again.
An outside linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lawrence is stuck in limbo — which in this case, happens to be Dickinson — as he waits for the NFL owners and Player's Association to resolve their differences.
Lawrence has been staying here for much of the summer, living with his girlfriend, former Dickinson High School golf standout Whitney Wellenstein, and her parents, Doug and Olivia Wellenstein.
"It's kind of annoying waiting, but then you get to spend quality time with people that you don't really get to hang out with because of football," Lawrence said. "You get a lot of free time."
Lawrence is making the most of that free time, too.
He spends as much time as he can with Whitney and her family. Doug is teaching him how to golf and Whitney's newborn niece has taken a shine to him.
"This is the longest we've gotten to see each other for a long time, probably since he left college," Whitney Wellenstein said. "It's relaxing."
Most of Lawrence's free time is spent in the West River Community Center weight room or on a football field. He also volunteers his time as a weight lifting instructor for the Dickinson High football team.
Lawrence, a 22-year-old former standout linebacker at the University of Minnesota, was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 draft.
He bounced around the league in his rookie season, however, not playing one down as a rookie.
He was waived by the St. Louis Rams and his hometown Philadelphia Eagles before the 2010 season began. The Chicago Bears signed him to the practice squad on Dec. 14 but released him shortly before the end of the year.
The Buccaneers picked him up Dec. 29 for their practice squad entering the final week of the season. He traveled with the team for their season finale against the New Orleans Saints and signed a three-year contract on Jan. 4.
"It's hectic just to go to so many different teams. You make a good rapport with everybody and then you have to leave," Lawrence said. "It's just one of those things where when you hit, when you stick in one place, that's when your years are going to keep running in the league."
Should his NFL career fizzle, Lawrence said he'd like to fall back on coaching.
"That's exactly what I want to do," Lawrence said. "I just love being around kids in general. I just remember myself as a kid, being just free. You're not worried about anything. Everything is just so fun. I just want to lead kids in the right direction, help them out. It's fun when you're that young. I definitely want to coach when I'm done playing."
He's found an outlet for that this summer with the Midgets' football team.
The team lifts weights shortly after sunrise a few days a week.
Lawrence is there every time.
"Right away, right when we met him it's like, 'Wow, he's in the NFL,'" said Dickinson senior linebacker Jamie Kuntz. "Now he's like one of the guys, he's really chill."
Lawrence said he sees himself as more of a motivator than anything, which in turn, helps with his motivation.
"I just try to show them just to have fun," he said. "I tell them, football in high school is the most fun time you're ever going to have. That's why I just love being around those guys. It motivates me every day, just to work out and everything."
Lawrence said he's making the most of each day he has in Dickinson but plans to go back to Tampa, Fla., sometime in July to be close to the team, regardless of whether or not the lockout has ended.
A Philadelphia native, Lawrence laughs and says North Dakota's summer heat suits him a lot better than Florida's and he needs time to acclimate himself to Tampa's sweltering heat and humidity.
Whether or not Lawrence sticks with the Buccaneers, he plans to try and make an NFL career work as long as he can.
"You've got to just roll with the punches," Lawrence said.