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FRISCO, Texas — DeMarcus Lawrence understands the word “no.”

He remembers hearing no, he couldn’t play at Boise State when he violated team rules and was suspended from college games. He remembers that no, after 20 sacks in 23 games with the Broncos, he wasn’t drafted in the first round, when if not for off-field questions, Lawrence says, “let’s get this clear: I was supposed to go first round.” The Dallas Cowboys drafted Lawrence 34th overall in 2014. Lawrence also remembers the no to close out his rookie regular season. No, he realized then, he had not recorded a sack or start heading into the playoffs.

The now two-time Pro Bowler who has recorded 25 sacks across the last two seasons learned through the years: He must translate those no’s into motivation.

“The no’s I got leading up to my career and being able to not get on the field with my teammates — I think that helped me out a lot in understanding where I want to be and what’s really important to me,” Lawrence said.

So excuse him if he didn’t see the malice in saying no when a young New York Giants fan clad in a Saquon Barkley jersey asked for Lawrence’s autograph fresh off the Cowboys’ 35-17 win last weekend. Bleacher Report tweeted a video of Lawrence telling the fan to “get the right jersey, son” before heading in a car home. By Wednesday evening, the video had been viewed 2.5 million times.

Lawrence sees now the video showed “sadness on the kid’s face,” he said Wednesday from his locker after practice, and for that “I apologize.” But the Cowboys’ captain says he was “shocked” at what he views as disproportionate criticism and believes it misses the point.

“You can’t just walk around life and think you have the privilege of getting everything you want,” Lawrence said. “When you hear no, you have to be able to accept that no and move on. Maybe that no led you to going to the next person and you get their autograph. It’s just like a door salesman: You’re going to get some no’s when you go and sell insurance at people’s doors. They’re going to tell you no, no, no. If you keep coming home to your wife with a no, she’s eventually going to leave you. ’Cause you’re not bringing no money to the table or food.

“It’s all about getting back out there and keep trying, bro.”

Rejection, and handling it proactively, is a message Lawrence seeks to instill in his three children and teammates alike. His 5-year-old son wants the latest toy? Lawrence has the money following a five-year, $105 million extension in April. But sometimes, he’s more concerned about the message more than the money. Lawrence explains this to teammates, too. The Cowboys didn’t activate their top 2017 or 2019 draft picks for the opener. So Lawrence, who remembers the years it took him to grow as a pass rusher, emphasized to Taco Charlton and Trysten Hill how they should attack defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme after hearing that, no, they hadn’t made the cut from the 53-man roster to 46-man game-day squad.

“As a rookie, it’s really hard to blossom in this Marinelli scheme because it demands so much from you,” Lawrence explained. “If you can blossom as a rookie, you have a hell of a career waiting for you.”

He knows. He’s put suspensions, two shoulder surgeries and a draft fall behind him to sign a second, lucrative contract with the Cowboys and become a force not only in pass rushing — he strip-sacked Eli Manning on Sunday, and still didn’t think it was good enough — but also in run defense for a unit that ranked in the top five last year. Lawrence has amassed 34½ career sacks in the regular season, 67 quarterback hits and 202 tackles to go with 10 forced fumbles and six recoveries. The production, especially that which shows up in stats more than a stuffed run, wasn’t immediate when he turned pro. But Lawrence is slowly becoming the one to deliver offenses with a no rather than hear it. He tells younger defensive linemen they can, too.

“I tell them every week that about the grind, what this game and Marinelli’s defense demands of you,” Lawrence said. “It has to be tough, it has to be relentless. You can’t sit there and care about the next man’s feelings or what happened on the last play.

“You’ve got to make sure you go right back to that dark place, go back to that tunnel, don’t think about no light and keep digging.”

Insight like that is characteristic of the Lawrence who teammates, family members, friends and media members see. But he knows that fans and national media more often see the DeMarcus Lawrence in a No. 90 Cowboys jersey than the one philosophizing on parenthood, business and how Adam and Eve handled the Forbidden Fruit (he did weigh in on that last week).

Lawrence said he understands that, as the video’s spread shows, social media is “for people to engage with others, if it’s negative or positive.” He aims to build more personal relationships through community events, most recently a Tuesday night bowling outing with local youths. There, Lawrence wasn’t simply donating funds. He was interacting. That was important to him.

“It was really important just to put a name with the face,” Lawrence said. “A lot of kids come up to me and say, ‘My dad, my mom, my family loves you, but we’ve never seen you before and never knew you as DeMarcus Lawrence.’ It’s actually fun to interact with the kids, learn a little about their lives and their stories, and give back to them. It was truly a blessing.”

Maybe, he says, he’ll think differently should a Washington Redskins fan ask for his autograph at FedExField this week. But Lawrence still would rather prioritize fans of the Cowboys, the team paying him each week to aggressively defend. That’s another message he wants to send to NFL fans.

“Tell your parents for Christmas you want DeMarcus Lawrence — we’ve got more people on the Cowboys,” Lawrence said. “We’ve got Jaylon Smith. Dak Prescott. Plenty. You choose.

“Don’t have to be a DeMarcus Lawrence jersey, but we like the silver and blue.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

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