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PHOENIX (AP) — Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson remains sore but hopes to play against Alabama in the national championship game Monday night.
Lawson hurt his left knee early in the Tigers' 37-17 win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve. He was diagnosed with a sprained medial collateral ligament, an injury that was still bothering him.
Lawson rated his pain level at an eight on a scale of 10. But he said he's gradually felt better as the week wore on and believes he'll be on the field against the Crimson Tide (13-1).
"There's a very good chance I will play," he said at Saturday's media session.
Clemson is seeking to become the first 15-0 national champion.
Linemate Kevin Dodd said he was uncertain if Lawson's injury would allow him to play at the level he has all season.
Lawson leads the Tigers with 10.5 sacks and the country with 23.5 tackles for loss. He apparently hurt himself when he swept around Oklahoma's offensive line to get in on a sack of quarterback Booker Mayfield in the first quarter. Lawson came to the sidelines after that. He said after the game that he felt his knee buckle a bit on an earlier play.
Lawson spent the second half with ice on the knee cheering on his teammates, who outscored Oklahoma 21-0 during the final 30 minutes to advance.
Dodd said he's seen Lawson work this week to get himself back in the lineup.
"I don't know if he's going to be out there or not, but we're going to keep rolling," Dodd said. "We know what we've got to do. We've got some guys that are just as hungry and will match Shaq's efforts."
That happened against Oklahoma when freshman Austin Bryant took over.
Bryant had four tackles, including a crucial fourth-down stop in the second half with Oklahoma trying to claw back. Bryant also shared a sack of Mayfield.
Bryant said he's ready to go if called on.
"It's definitely a confidence booster," Bryant said. "But you can never get too high, never get too low. I played a pretty good game, but not the best game I could've played."
Clemson's defense ranked sixth nationally this season, holding opponents to just over 301 yards a game. Lawson was a huge reason why. The Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year picked up the pass rushing role of last year's star — and Atlanta Falcons first-round draft choice — Vic Beasley.
Lawson, too, is headed to the NFL. He's declared the championship game will be his last in college and he'll enter the NFL draft. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound lineman will likely be a first-round selection — a status that could be significantly impacted if Lawson hurts his knee any more severely.
Lawson, though, said he's not worried about that.
"That's not my concern. My concern is winning this national championship for my team," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do, get back on the field and win it for my team."
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