Editor's Note: For part one of this two-part series on Andrew Hawkins by Brennen Warner, please take the time to read it here.
Andrew Hawkins, perhaps the fastest player on the Bengals roster (and definitely the shortest at 5'7"), did not find his way into the NFL by conventional means. He was hardly even scouted by the NFL when he played college football at the University of Toledo, and went undrafted in the 2008 NFL Draft. Hawkins accepted an invitation at a rookie mini-camp with the Cleveland Browns, but soon found himself out of football - working in a factory and as a caddie during the summer of 2008. (That's the very, very short summary of Hawkins' early career. Read the rest of part one here!)
Hawkins career would soon take a sharp upward turn to the NFL. It started when, on December 5, 2008, Hawkins received a contract offer from a Canadian Football League team, the Montreal Alouettes. Shortly thereafter, Hawkins learned of a football opportunity that was even more promising - a reality television show called 4th and Long, where the winner would earn a roster spot on the Dallas Cowboys.
+4th and Long: Hawkins didn't need to report to the Montreal Alouettes until the following summer, so he was free to participate in this show, which filmed in the early spring of 2009 and aired on Spike TV on May 18, 2009. Casting and filming took place over a 3 month time span during that spring. The concept of the show was that 12 players (six receivers and six defensive backs) would compete in a grueling football camp, with one player eliminated every week. The winner would be awarded a spot on the Dallas Cowboys 80-man offseason roster, and therefore have a chance to compete for a final roster spot through training camp. Essentially, it was a chance for these former CFL, AFL, semi-pro players, and otherwise derailed football players to receive an invitation to an NFL training camp, an invitation which they may never have received on their own.
Hawkins first heard about the show through commercials and word of mouth:
"I heard about the show through ESPN, and a friend of mine that I used to play with was trying out. They had a couple of open calls, but I was working the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game as a coach. So I couldn’t make it, but I sent a DVD in and made it through the cut. They held a combine for the top 50 guys in Los Angeles. So they flew me out there, and I performed well and was lucky enough to get on the show."
In fact, that DVD was the same film (which he worked so hard to get) from Hawkins' mini-camp with the Cleveland Browns that he sent to the casting crew for 4th and Long.
On the show, Hawkins dominated. He dominated every drill, even the physical drills. Even the blocking drills, the punt gunner drills, the tackling drills, the jump ball drills, the one-on-one drills, the kickoff return drills, the conditioning drills, you name it. The only player that seemed to be in Hawkins' league was a fellow wide receiver, Jesse Holley.
Hawkins and Holley enjoyed a steady friendship as the best football players on the show, and only players who were never in the bottom two or three, basically winning every drill and scoring almost every touchdown. Hawkins, despite his size, was actually more successful in general. Hawkins, as a two-way player and a man with extensive special teams experience, showed more versatility than any player on the show, with elite speed and quickness that helped him blow through every defensive back in every drill. As a result, Hawkins was never even close to being eliminated.
Holley went through much more rollercoaster rides within the daily drills, but he really put on a show in the last few episodes - especially in the final 'Big Game'. Holley has a monstrous stat line (seven receptions, 130+ yards, two touchdowns), while Hawkins made his first big mistake of the entire show. Despite a decent performance on the field (three receptions receptions, 50+ yards, TD, and 60+ kickoff return yards), Hawkins fumbled on the very last play of regulation, allowing the opposing team to score and win the game as time expired. I'm not kidding when I say that it was the first big mistake he made in the entire course of the show. The timing of the mistake was horrible and disheartening.
But, Hawkins' overall body of work still seemed superior in my eyes. One coach felt strongly about Hawkins too. In the final deliberations (between Host Michael Irvin and his coaches - DBs Bill Bates and WRs Coach Joe Avezzano), Avezzano was adamant that Hawkins' should win, citing his special teams ability, versatility, and character.
However, a few minutes later, Jerry Jones is shaking the hands of Jesse Holley, whose 6'3", 213-lb frame may have been the only thing that Holley had over Hawkins. Cowboys fans were actually a bit upset. Hawkins was the clear early favorite amongst Cowboys message boards, and there was a heated discussion (and here) over whether or not Holley actually deserved to win over Hawkins. Despite all this, Hawkins and Holley remain friends to this day.
In the end, Bengals fans should be thankful that Hawkins did not win this show. Otherwise, he may have a star and not stripes on his helmet.
+The Montreal Alouettes: Hawkins did not seem too upset about narrowly losing out on his chance to join the NFL. In an interview (which I encourage any fans of Hawkins to read) after the show's filming concluded, Hawkins didn't seem the least bit upset:
DZ: I know you can’t talk about it much, but were you happy with your performance on the show?
AH: Yeah, I’m definitely happy with my performance. First of all, God has presented me with so many opportunities. I’m trying my hardest to break in, and it’s a hard process. It just seems like every time I’m ready to give up, God presents another opportunity for me. I wanted to show up with the faith that I was going to work as hard as I could, and whatever happened happened. I can’t worry about the outcome. I can’t worry about things I can’t control. So as long as I was working hard, I told myself I would be happy. And that’s what I did.
Hawkins' sights were set on the Canadian Football League, where he would be joining a CFL powerhouse- the Montreal Alouettes.
Hawkins wasn't used in the first seven weeks of the 2009 CFL season. In week eight (August 21, 2009), he recorded his first professional football catch. In week 15, he caught his first touchdown [3:30 mark of this video]. Over the course of the season, Hawkins was used as a backup wide receiver and kick returner. For the 2009 season, his final statistics were 13 receptions, 131 yards, 3 TDs, along with 9 kickoff returns for 163 yards (18.1 average). Additionally, in the CFL semi-finals, Hawkins had four receptions for 40 yards receiving, and a rush attempt for 18 yards. However, during the game, Hawkins broke his ankle and missed out on the Alouette's 2009 Grey Cup a week later.
Hawkins rehabbed his ankle the following year, coming back to post 28 receptions, 326 yards receiving, three touchdowns, and four rushes for 52 yards. Though Hawkins still struggled to attain much playing time, he was certainly an effective contributor. He also sported a 21 yard/return average on six kickoff returns, but struggled mightily on 12 punt returns (somehow only 7 yards). By the end of the year, it was clear that Hawkins had talent, but there was no room for Hawkins on the roster. Hawkins two-year CFL contract had ended, but Hawkins was generating interest from the NFL.
+NFL Visits: All the sudden, the NFL loved Hawkins - as this Alouettes beat-writer describes:
It always seemed unlikely receiver Andrew Hawkins, a potential free agent, would return to the Alouettes in 2011, given his difficulty in cracking the lineup – mostly due to ratio issues.
But that hasn’t prevented NFL teams from auditioning him this winter via workouts.
According to a source, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Hawkins has worked out for at least two teams south of the border and could have at least four more scheduled. Late Tuesday evening, a source told Als Inside/Out Hawkins, earlier in the day, received two contract offers from undisclosed teams and was contemplating his next move.
At least two of those interested teams were the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. His visit with the Bengals was particularly memorable to Hawkins:
"I remember the date. January 5th. I thought it went well," Hawkins says. "That was a big thing because my brother played there and I can’t tell you how many games I’ve watched in here."
A week later, and it was the Rams that signed Hawkins. But, the lockout put an end to any contact Hawkins would had with his first NFL team. He was excited, but it wasn't a good situation for a young wide receiver to be in. The Rams wide receiver roster, though without any heavy hitters, was full of 'potential' guys that the Rams had invested heavily in.
At the time, the posiition group consisted of two rookie WRs (3rd rounder Austin Pettis and 4th rounder Greg Salas), Mark Clayton, Danario Alexander, Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard, and a Hawkins clone - Danny Amendola.
Hawkins wasn't even given a chance with the Rams, cut after one day during training camp. "But I had a good practice, it was numbers, " Hawkins explains modestly.
Two teams put in a claim for the small wide receiver after he was placed on waivers -- the New Orleans Saints and the Cincinnati Bengals. Because the Bengals were lower in draft order, they were awarded Hawkins.
On August 2, 2011, Andrew Hawkins showed up at a small college in Georgetown, Kentucky. He was at an NFL training camp, but he had no idea if he would even make that elusive NFL roster. But, there was an opportunity in front of him.
And he was ready. Again.