The magical connection between Trevor Lawrence and his brother, Chase

THERE WERE NO skulls available, so Trevor Lawrence grabbed a grapefruit instead.

In July 2019, just a few months after he led Clemson to 2018’s college football national championship, Lawrence was cajoled by his older brother, Chase, and sister-in-law, Brooke, to fill in as a model for a series of life-sized oil paintings that the couple had been commissioned to paint. Trevor, the projected No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, is 21 now, and has been a can’t-miss pro prospect since he was a teenager, and the one guiding force through it all has been his unique relationship with Chase, a free spirit, deep thinker and accomplished artist who, to the outside world, perhaps, seems like Trevor’s exact opposite.

“But they really truly are best friends,” says Brooke.

So when Chase, who is nearly 5 years older, explained the dark, Baroque-style, religious-themed painting he envisioned of a monk staring at a skull and then asked his little brother to help, Trevor happily donned a monk’s wardrobe, even after learning the piece was for an art collector who also happened to be a Georgia Bulldogs fan.

The brothers set up a makeshift studio in the darkened sunroom off the kitchen of their parents’ home. Trevor pulled the hood down over his face until the stark shadows captured his distinct chin and high cheekbones. (Chase, who has similar features and the same magnificent family mane, posed as the monk for the second painting in the series.) And just as Trevor grabbed the grapefruit/skull and leaned in ominously, gesticulating toward the candle-lit mantel, the boys’ mom burst in, freezing in her tracks at the bizarre scene.

“What in the world are y’all doing, some kind of weird ritual?” shrieked Amanda Lawrence, as everyone burst out laughing.

“It was hilarious, like a moment straight out of a sitcom,” says Brooke. “It was the perfect scene to walk into: Chase doing something weird and kinda creepy and Trevor there, right by his side, chilling. They both inspire each other and have a lot of influence over each other in a positive way, and it’s really sweet to see. I don’t know how all this talent is in one family, whether they’re athletes or artists, but it is a beautiful, tight-knit group and it’s a big reason why Chase and Trevor are both so successful.”

Especially when they work together.

And as the NFL draft approaches, the Lawrence brothers have once again teamed up on a groundbreaking project that combines their unique talents while offering some insight into one of the highest-rated draft prospects in decades.

Minus all the cloaks and craniums, of course.

IN JANUARY, AFTER finishing his college career 34-2 as a starter while developing into what Mel Kiper Jr. says is the fourth-best quarterback prospect since 1979, Trevor declared for the draft and signed with an agent. One of his first decisions as a pro followed two major trends in sports: the recent boom in the sports card industry (fueled by the pandemic) and the growing group of young sports stars demanding more personal agency. Trevor signed an exclusive deal with Topps to produce a 50-card box set to be released sometime before the draft that will include 20 cards created by Chase and Brooke. It’s a first for an NFL rookie and a first for Topps, expanding on the formula from the company’s Project72 and Project70, which matched renowned artists with baseball stars.

“I’m excited,” Trevor said at the time. “Chase and Brooke are extremely talented artists, and it’s special to collaborate with them on these custom designs.”

Says Chase, “The appeal was that we’d get to work together on something we both cared about, something the agent said had never been done before.”

Another factor for Chase was the chance to follow in the footsteps of his idol: Alex Pardee, who was one of the artists featured in the Topps Project70 series.

Growing up in Cartersville, Georgia, the sum total of Chase’s athletic career was a few summers drawing in the dirt during Little League games, and he had even less interest (if possible) in his dad’s sport of basketball. Both Amanda, now a nurse practitioner, and the 6-foot-6 Jeremy Lawrence were both successful high school athletes. But after Chase was found lying down on the team bench and sleeping during a youth basketball game, his flummoxed parents happily relented: no more sports.

“I was a wild child; Trevor was the one who was always good at sports,” says Chase. “We knew he was going to get a full ride somewhere for something since he was in middle school. My whole family loves sports so much but, at the time, I couldn’t have cared less.”

Tall but rail-thin, Chase was more into drawing dragons, lizards and monsters, something he never thought could be his “thing” until he discovered Pardee, who pioneered a kind of colorful, creature-filled, pop surrealism — like Ralph Steadman meets “Stranger Things.”

“Alex Pardee is the reason I became an artist,” says Chase. “It was the coolest, weirdest stuff I had ever seen, it was edgy and disturbing, and when you’re a little angsty teenager, you think that’s so badass. But that led me to other artists and it opened up this whole new world for me.”

More importantly, when Chase was a ninth grader, at a time when being overshadowed by his superstar sibling might have led to a lifetime of resentment or remoteness for Chase, Jeremy did something that offers a window into the secret behind their talented and tight-knit family. (Chase and Trevor also have a younger sister, Olivia. After getting his driver’s license, the first time Chase drove by himself was to take Trevor to the hospital to meet their little sister, a memory that still makes Amanda tear up.)

Without knowing exactly what he was getting into, Jeremy, a manager at a steel company in Georgia, agreed to drive to a seedy gallery in Atlanta so that Chase could meet Pardee, his version of Tom Brady.

“My dad doesn’t know anything about art, and I know the whole time he was like, ‘This is so weird,’ but he did it for one reason: to support me,” says Chase, who attended college only after Jeremy encouraged him to study art. “I had so many questions for [Pardee]. I showed him my drawings, and he asked if he could have one, so we traded drawings. I still have his at my parents’ house. So how this all worked out is beyond crazy. The connections to Trevor and Pardee, I mean, that’s just so much incentive.”

Chase and Brooke would need it all for the Topps project, with less than two months to create 20 original works. If Trevor was lacking any creative courage, however, it was seated directly behind him on Jan. 5 at the remote Heisman Trophy ceremony inside the Clemson football meeting room. Although Trevor finished second behind Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, Chase’s outfit — a chic tan suit with a wide-open green floral shirt, necklaces and a white carnation lapel pin — won the day on Twitter. In mid-January, Chase, Brooke and Trevor met up again in Clemson to discuss ideas, color palates and aesthetics for the card series.

“We were concerned when they were younger that Chase and Trevor wouldn’t be close because of the age difference and because they’re just so different,” says Amanda. “But they’re closer than they’ve ever been, and that has really evolved in the last six years or so. It’s wonderful they’ve been able to merge their two worlds even more with this project.”

The first thing they did was pore over photos from Trevor’s Clemson career along with retro sports cards from the 1960s and 1970s. (Think: massive shoulder pads, spectacular mustaches and cheesy Heisman-like stiff-arm poses.)

Chase and Brooke, who met while studying art at Kennesaw State University, create together as one artist (taking turns with the canvas) and have developed a style Chase describes as impressionistic realism that is heavily influenced by Dutch artists from the Renaissance period. The approach typically leans more toward the ghastly and esoteric and is often infused with theological symbolism.

While the oeuvre is effective and moving, it’s not exactly a style that lends itself to football cards or, say, your typical Jacksonville Jaguars fan who has already seen their fair share of grotesque performance art on the field.

But after Trevor posed in different outfits for a series of reference photos and videos, Chase and Brooke found themselves inspired by the glowy colors and the authoritarian, outer-space pastiche in the pages of the “Watchmen” graphic novels. They were also drawn to psychedelic Jimi Hendrix-style concert posters and a layered, textured oil-painting approach to digital portraits.

The couple were a little overwhelmed at first, until they showed the folks at Topps the first three cards they produced, “and they were like, ‘Oh my God, you totally got this, just keep doing your thing,'” says Chase.

Trevor took a little more convincing, especially on the more art deco and nouveau-inspired cards, including one with him in shorts surrounded by wildflowers.

“We shared a lot of what we were doing with Trevor, but not everything,” says Brooke. “Sometimes when you share things that are a work in progress with people who are not artists, it can be hard for them to see the vision. … But Chase kept trying to push him out of his comfort zone in a positive way, like, ‘Come on, you’re a rock star, you have to do this!’ Sometimes he was cool with it, and sometimes he was not.”

Because Brooke has more experience with the digital medium (and, Chase confesses, is probably the better artist), on the first 10 cards she concentrated on the portraits of Trevor while Chase did all the backgrounds. And then, following their process, they’d polish each other’s work. On the second 10 cards, they switched it around, with Chase taking the lead on the portraits. The night before the project was due, they took a deep breath and texted Trevor the entire collection. “We used our phone because he’s so focused on football, he’s literally not tech-savvy enough to use computers very well,” says Chase.

After several minutes, Trevor texted his critique:

Duuuuude, these are amazing, I love these, you guys killed it!

“I was so relieved,” says Chase.

ALTHOUGH IT’S NOT quite on par with his Heisman Trophy presentation ensemble, Chase sits on the big, open front porch of his new home near Williamston, South Carolina, with his hair in a bun. He sports boots, camo socks, a few necklaces, a leather horse bridle belt and a torn purple tie-dyed T-shirt featuring a tarot card portrait of The Fool.

They’ve just moved into this house that once belonged to the town doctor, who treated patients in what is now the downstairs bedroom, which still has a small circular observation window in the middle of the door. There’s a natural spring and a weathered, two-story tobacco-leaf drying barn in back. The fact that the pipes under the house were insulated with what appears to be human hair freaks everyone out, except Chase, who, of course, thinks it’s absolutely awesome.

In a football world full of meatheads, screaming pundits and coaching platitudes, Chase is a breath of fresh air. On this afternoon he effortlessly bounces around to topics ranging from atheism to his work with the homeless in the Alphabet Streets area of Anderson, South Carolina, to Atari, Monet, dragons, the golden ratio of the holly blossoms next to the porch and even Chuck E. Cheese.

Just by having a character like Chase as an older brother and confidant, Trevor has been equipped with a franchise quarterback’s most important armor: thick skin and an utter indifference about the haters.

“We just don’t care what other people think,” says Chase. “I’ve just never given a crap about stuff like that. I’m not going to sacrifice my happiness and all the great things I can do with my life because I’m worried what someone else thinks.”

Last week Trevor created quite a frenzy when he dared to mention to Sports Illustrated that, ya know, there’s more to life than football or Super Bowl rings. A healthy and refreshing perspective that predictably sent most draft pundits into hysterics. But if you’re wondering whether Trevor has agonized over the reaction to those comments or any part of his unconventional path to the NFL — skipping the medical combine, not attending the draft in person, passing on most interview requests — think again.

Between the Topps project and Trevor’s wedding on April 10 on the South Carolina coast (where Chase was the best man), there’s been little time for Brooke and Chase to unpack. In the maze of moving chaos, Chase might have forgotten for the moment exactly where the family dogs are, but when asked, he knows the precise location of the paintings he’d save if the house caught on fire.

With the exception of the art studio upstairs, which is already packed with supplies and easels featuring the early stages of oil-painting landscapes, most of the rooms remain full of boxes. Many of them are packed with texts on Chase’s passion: the intersection of theology and philosophy, especially as it pertains to the original language and context of the scriptures and how it’s often misinterpreted and manipulated.

“We talk about this stuff all the time,” Chase says of him and Trevor. “That’s another reason we get along so well is that we have a common interest: We know there’s more and we want to know what it is, and we value that search and that knowledge above everything.”

Four days before the wedding, the wide, red-brick tile porch, framed by pink azaleas and purple hanging wisteria, is alive with buzzing insects and chirping birds. And even though Chase is so new to this house — the local cable installer is inside hooking up the WiFi — when the topic turns to Trevor, Chase speaks in a way that makes it seem like he’s lived here in this spot his entire life.

No. 1 picks in the NFL draft, especially quarterbacks, remain a crapshoot at best. Despite all the experts and all the resources invested in scouting the most important position in sports, there’s still no magic formula that can predict how a college quarterback, even a 6-foot-6, 220-pound, quick-thinking field general like Trevor, will react to the speed, violence and impossible expectations of the NFL.

But certainly, if there’s a common denominator among those who survive on Sundays, it’s a strong group of family and friends who can provide unfiltered and unwavering support and perspective (i.e., truth) inside the warped, fun-house-mirror alternative reality of professional sports.

Listening to Chase, Trevor seems to have plenty of that.

Brooke describes them as a pair of humble hearts.

“The main difference is just vocation,” says Chase. “Other than that, we are very similar, same sense of humor, same goofiness, same personality overall. He’s pretty creative, too, artistic even, and we’re both problem solvers and we’re both seekers. We are always seeking the truth no matter if it’s what we want to hear or don’t want to hear. And we disagree on a lot on things like faith and religion and dogma, but we agree on just as much if not more. But he’s young, so he’s still figuring things out.”

EVENTUALLY, CHASE CHECKS his phone and sees that an antique, marble-topped console he bought is ready to be picked up. There’s also interest from an art dealer about a solo exhibition in Texas this summer and another card collaboration with Brooke and Trevor, possibly on a series of NFTs. Chase and Brooke are booked with commissions for at least the next year.

Chase is still noodling with his best man’s speech, something attendees say will end up a “sweet and profound” lesson on creating balance and singularity in life and especially marriage (and, perhaps, even an NFL franchise) in which, if you honor the other, or hurt the other, you’re also honoring, or hurting, yourself.

“This world is temporal, and you can be on a mountaintop one day and people will turn on you the next,” Amanda says. “As Trevor gets more notoriety, he will need a true sense of self. And with all the press and hoopla, it’s nice for him to be able to just be himself with Chase, who really couldn’t care less that he’s a celebrity.”

Before he leaves to get the rental truck, Chase is asked to imagine a scenario a few years down the line where he and Brooke are at a gallery in New York full of their own acclaimed work and adoring fans, and Trevor, having just flown in after another Jags playoff game, is wandering around in relative anonymity, constantly being asked by the art crowd what exactly he does for a living.

The thought makes Chase roar with laughter as he steps off the porch.

“Oh man,” Chase says, “Trevor would absolutely love that.”