Hawkins running with opportunity
Sept. 12, 2008
Vanderbilt running back Jared Hawkins is a 5-foot-10, 200-pound cliché for perseverance.
The same way he waits for his blocks, the redshirt junior remained patient through two trying seasons and when given the opportunity, he burst right through the hole, rushing for 84 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in the Commodores' 24-17 victory over then-No. 24 South Carolina last Thursday.
"Jared has been through a lot here and hasn't really gotten a lot of reps like he's probably wanted to," said senior quarterback Chris Nickson. "He's just been working his tail off and doing everything the right way, going about things the right way, being a great man, a great man of faith."
Nickson said it was a joy to hand the ball off to Hawkins in the closing minutes and watch him pick up two straight first downs to seal the victory.
"His opportunity has finally presented itself and what he did was he came out and he put the team on his shoulders and carried us down the field," Nickson said. "It showed that hard work pays off. I can't say enough about him."
"I wasn't surprised by anything that Jared did or what he can do because I know he's always been a great back for us," said center Bradley Vierling. "I'm just excited whenever he gets that ball. You never know what's going to happen, if he's going to break it for 30 yards for a touchdown or slam it in there for four and just get us a first down."
Vierling said he loves blocking for all of his tailbacks, but you sense that he gets a little extra satisfaction from watching one of his closest friends enjoying success.
"I'm just excited to be a part of Jared Hawkins' life," Vierling said, "and it's just a pleasure blocking for him."
Given Hawkins' recent accomplishments, it's easy to forget the journey he has taken to get here. As a redshirt freshman, the Spring, Texas, native averaged a team-high 6.9 yards per carry (298 yards on 43 carries) and scored three touchdowns in a back-up role behind Cassen Jackson-Garrison.
Hawkins seemed poised for a breakout season in 2007. However, with Jackson-Garrison still in the fold and Jeff Jennings returning from injury, the opportunity never came. Hawkins rushed for 267 yards on 60 carries and missed the final two games after suffering a concussion against Kentucky.
Was Hawkins frustrated? Of course, but it'd be more worrisome if he wasn't. Rather than point fingers or get discouraged, he remained faithful and continued to work hard.
"It was definitely tough, but I just trusted God to take care of me," he said. "I knew he had a plan, a purpose for that."
Hawkins said it was really exciting to prove that he could thrive as a featured back.
"When you come to college to play football you want those opportunities and you kind of expect it," he said. "I've been waiting my time, and I feel like I got it and I did pretty well; so I'm just trying to continue to get better."
That drive to improve has defined Hawkins' career on West End.
"Every offseason I work as hard as I can," he said. "I always want to try to be the best in the weight room and the agility drills, so that's a big part of what I do. I really feel like hard work has gotten me to where I am now, and I'm going to continue to work hard."
His teammates are certain of that.
"Jared's one of the hardest workers on the team," Vierling said. "He's non-stop, go hard, always on the grind. Whatever that guy gets, he deserves."
Vierling said Hawkins' biggest improvement has come in pass protection.
"He's improved on that more so than I'd say anything he's done," the center said. "Knowing the offense better, knowing where blitzes are coming from, just getting your pads down and blocking better, he's really improving and he's looking good."
The fact that Hawkins has become a more complete player hasn't been lost on Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson.
"I expected Jared to have a good year," Johnson said. "I said earlier that I thought we would be better at the running back position than we were last year, and Jared was going to be a big part of it."
Johnson added that Hawkins' stature can be deceiving.
"Jared runs bigger than he looks," he said. "He's a stout kid, but he doesn't look that way if you just look at him on the field. I think he surprises a few people with his power. He doesn't mind at all running between the tackles and bouncing off tacklers, and he did a great job of that (last Thursday)."
Vierling, who came in with Hawkins, agreed.
"Jared's fearless," he said. "When he gets the ball all he wants to do is just gain yards. It doesn't matter if he's breaking to the outside and running past people or trying to run them over through the middle. No matter what, he's going to get the job done."
You can be certain of that.
-Jarred Amato is a senior at Vanderbilt University and also serves as editor of The Sports VU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org