Calvert Hall's Lawrence Cager catches a pass in the end… (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore…)
When Devin Redd thinks of Lawrence Cager, his mind goes back to the summer before Cager's freshman year at Calvert Hall. There, during July summer workouts, in his red shorts, white T-shirt and black Nike shoes, he ran routes and caught passes alongside guys who would go on to play Division I football.
Redd, then the wide receivers coach at Calvert Hall, was mesmerized by Cager's size and athletic ability. But he was confused when he found out Cager wanted to be a kicker.
"I said, 'Nah, man, you're not a kicker,' " Redd recalled. "I said: 'You're 6 foot 4, 170 or so pounds. You could play wide receiver.'
"So we sat down with his family and I said; 'Look, this kid has a future catching the ball. He has a great upside if he makes football a priority.' "
With a new focus on football, Cager, a rising senior at Calvert Hall, has taken his play to new heights. He is the only Baltimore-area player to be invited to Beaverton, Ore., for The Opening, a six-day Nike football showcase for the country's elite high school football players that starts Saturday.
Listed at 6 feet 5, 200 pounds. Cager is ranked as a three-star recruit on Rivals.com. Maryland, Indiana and Oregon State are among his 33 scholarship offers — and, yes, he keeps count. He also has received interest from Ohio State, Missouri and Michigan State.
It's an impressive resume, sure, but if not for that freshman-year conversation, Redd said Cager could be having similar success in another sport.
"He was always a good athlete," said Redd, now the offensive coordinator at St. Frances. "But his maturity just needed to reach a certain level, at any sport, and he would be dynamic."
The stories of Cager's athleticism seem almost too good to be true. They start with baseball. Cager began playing the game at age 4. Later, he said he went to Austria to play baseball with Team USA. He was a center fielder, and came to Calvert Hall because of the Cardinals' program.
Injuries and coaching concerns caused him to stop playing after his sophomore year, Cager said. But before he called it a career, he said he played in three games that year — and hit five home runs.
There was soccer, too, a sport he grew up playing along with baseball. Cager made the junior varsity team at Calvert Hall as a freshman. There was also basketball, which Cager played as a sophomore on the Cardinals' varsity team.
More recently, Cager dabbled in track and field. He won both the indoor and outdoor Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association titles in the high jump. His highest jump — 6 feet 8, which he reached in just his third competitive outing — ranked 19th in the country, according to DyeStat.com.
It was the kind of natural athleticism high school coaches drool over. Donald Davis, Calvert Hall's head football coach, said that no matter what sport Cager chose, he would become an elite athlete. Redd made it a point to help Cager focus strictly on football.
"A lot of guys are freakish athletes," Redd said. "With Lawrence, it was getting him to mature at something, and once he matured at something, the rest would take care of itself."
With the help of Redd, Cager worked to become a complete football player. Together, they watched film of high-profile receivers and worked to mimic their technique.
Though Calvert Hall limped to a 3-9 record in 2013, recruiters began to notice Cager. They saw that his frame was well built, that he was a long strider with natural instincts, that he covered ground quickly and that he could catch most everything thrown in his direction.
"It's a luxury," Davis said. "It's a blessing to have a kid that can play at that level. What it does is it makes everybody better. He challenges other, and they challenge him. That's what builds a program."
In many ways, playing those other sports helped Cager develop into the athlete he is today. He'll need all of his skills — hand-eye coordination, agility, hand technique and footwork — in Oregon over the next week.
Around this time last year, Cager was watching highlights from the 2013 The Opening. A couple of receivers caught his eye: Malachi Dupre, a five-star recruit in the class of 2014 who signed with LSU, and George Campbell, a highly coveted prospect in the class of 2015.
Cager said he paid close attention to how the coaches critiqued Campbell a year ago, and he plans to use what he learned there to help elevate his game even higher while at the camp.
"It was little things that coaches pick up on that you don't normally pick up on," Cager said. "It's going to allow me to be a little bit ahead of the teaching that they'll give me up there.
"It's very humbling to know that you're one of the top kids in the country."