Brijesh “BJ” Lawrence wasn't passionate about University of Nebraska-Omaha football.
The 2007 Omaha Northwest graduate left and enrolled in classes at Metropolitan Community College, taking on a bank job on the side. He fell out of state championship sprinting shape, packing on pounds and becoming unrecognizable before a former Husky coach reached out.
George Drinnin Sr. was a coordinator on the Dana College football team after a lengthy career leading the Northwest program that helped build Lawrence into a scholarship athlete. Now, he was reaching out with a second chance.
In the 10 years since that call, Lawrence has done it all. He's traveled to 40 countries around the world, competed at six world championships and two Olympic Games, and raced against a legendary sprinter from Jamaica — earning his own elite medals.
“I am so happy I did go (to Dana),” the former Viking said June 22. “It started there.”
Without his year in Blair, Lawrence questions whether he'd ever left that bank or lost that weight.
An Olympian's path
Lawrence grew up in Saint Kitts and Nevis, an island country in the West Indies bordered by the Caribbean Sea. He recalls running everywhere.
At age 8, his family moved to the United States, settling in Omaha. He went to school and wound up at Omaha Northwest High School, where he earned 2007 100- and 200-meter dash state championships.
Through his athletic efforts as a Husky, Lawrence earned a Division II football scholarship at UNO. But it wasn't until he arrived at his third school, Dana, that he got back on the track.
Drinnin Sr. helped facilitate the move to Blair in 2009, but the future Olympian had to put in the work as he resided at Holling Hall, rooming with a tennis player. By track season, Lawrence had cut 45 pounds down to 200.
“We had all of the resources we needed at Dana,” he said, noting the track and weight room as well as the cafeteria.
Lawrence instantly excelled. In his very first meet at Doane University, the sprinter set the nation's best time in the 55-meter dash. Though he often had to rely on himself to train, without other world-class sprinters around him, he continued breaking records.
“I was just happy to be running again, honestly,” Lawrence said.
The Viking capped his first indoor season as Dana's only two-time All-American. His 6.77-second time in the 60-meter dash set a school record. His best indoor 200 time, 21.73, did, too.
But during the outdoor season Lawrence shined even more. He became the Dana College's second-ever NAIA champion in Marion, Ind., finishing the 100 dash in just 10.43. He was also sixth in the 200 and determined to further build his status as the Vikings' most accomplished sprinter.
But a phone call from coach Allen Friesen changed all of that. During the summer of 2010, Lawrence was on the beach in Saint Kitts, enjoying time home, when his coach let him know Dana was closing and that he would have to return to the states to begin the transfer process.
“I was pretty upset,” Lawrence said.
He'd planned to move out of the dorms and live in a house with his teammates, but those plans were dashed. Instead, one of the last Dana College greats had to make new ones.
10 great years later
Friesen still remembers conversations with Lawrence about possibly moving onto Doane.
It ended up being another strong college decision by the Omaha Northwest grad.
“It was fun to see him have some really good successes,” the last Vikings track coach said.
Lawrence earned All-American status and NAIA national championships as a Tiger, but also reached even greater heights. Before his 2013 graduation, he represented Saint Kitts and Nevis and competed at his first Olympics in London after earning a bronze relay medal at the World Championships in South Korea. His 400 team trailed just second-place France and first-place Jamaica led by world record holder Usain Bolt.
Since his time at Doane ended, Lawrence has competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics and in numerous other world-class track events. His success has also led to speaking engagements around the world.
And it all started at Dana College.
Today, Lawrence works for Union Pacific in Omaha. He continues to train on his Northwest High School track and in his home gym.