Jake Lawler tackles career in screenwriting

The Hussman graduate and former Tar Heel football player now writes for “The Crossover” series on Disney+.

A man, Jake Lawler, wearing a suit and posing for a photo in front of a white backdrop with the Disney logo and the logo for a show called
“For anybody interested in switching their career path and pursuing a dream, I would say: It’s a difficult process,” Lawler said. “Do it because it’s what you love.” (Submitted photo)

When he came to Carolina on a football scholarship, Jake Lawler ’20 knew he enjoyed writing, but he had no idea where that passion would take him.

He first tried writing in high school, and his parents encouraged him to pursue that passion. But he was also a highly recruited varsity football player, so writing took a backseat to athletics for a while. He chose to attend Carolina in part because he could combine both interests, playing football at Kenan Stadium and studying writing at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

As a journalism student, Lawler co-founded two media ventures that are still active at Carolina: UNCUT, a student-led media organization that tells student-athlete stories, and Inside the Film Room, a pop culture podcast.

His first breakthrough as a writer came through an essay he published documenting his experience with depression that reached a wide audience.

“I received a bunch of responses. Not just like, ‘Oh, we’re here for you,’ but people sharing their own pain and their own stories,” Lawler said. “That was the first moment I knew my writing was good and it could do some good.”

At Hussman, Lawler discovered that his passion for writing and athletics did not fully translate into a passion for sports journalism.

“I thought I was going to do sports journalism, but I realized that there’s not much room for prose in that,” Lawler said. ‘I think sports are a great backdrop for dramatic storytelling. That’s how it pushed me toward exploring screenwriting.”

As a junior considering screenwriting as a career, Lawler approached head football coach Mack Brown for advice. Brown suggested he write his own pilot script and encouraged him to follow his dream. Lawler decided to forgo his last two years of football eligibility, graduated a year early, and moved to Los Angeles with a draft original screenplay in hand.

Lawler’s first job in Hollywood was as an assistant at a production company. After gaining experience in the industry, he earned a position on the writing staff of the Disney+ sports drama series “The Crossover.” He was the lead writer on the show’s fourth episode.

Jake Lawler playing defense during a college football game between UNC-Chapel Hill and Campbell University.

Lawler has applied lessons learned from football to screenwriting. (Rebecca Lawson/GoHeels)

Lawler credits his approach to pursuing his dream career to lessons he learned as a football player and student at Carolina.

“I’m incredibly grateful for football because it taught me a lot about discipline, hard work and effort. I learned that failure is the first step, not the final step,” he said. “The journalism program sets a high standard, so being willing to welcome that challenge and to grow in the face of failure, that only makes you a better writer.”

Lawler’s hard work and willingness to fail paid off, and he seized the opportunity that hard work opened up for him. He hopes others can learn from his experience.

“For anybody interested in switching their career path and pursuing a dream, I would say: It’s a difficult process,” he said. “Do it because it’s what you love. If you approach it that way, then the disappointment that will inevitably come at various points will be offset by the passion you have for that thing you truly care about.”