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The Story of Andrew Hawkins, Pt. I

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Wide Receiver Andrew Hawkins debuted for the Bengals this year as an undrafted rookie. He stood out on the field due to his elusive speed and 5'7" height. Not only is he a good football player, but he is very likeable and his work ethic is unmatched. Because of these traits, Bengals fans have fallen in love with the man known as "Baby Hawk".

However, most don't know the full story of Andrew Hawkins. So, I'd like to tell the long version, an interesting and inspring account that may take a while to tell. So, bear with me. This article (Part I) covers Hawkins' family, college career, and time out of football.

+Football Family: I think it's important to first touch on Andrew's older brother, Artrell Hawkins. Artrell was a speedy cornerback drafted by the Bengals in the second round of the 1998 NFL draft. Artrell contributed regularly to the Bengals for 6 years and remains close to the Bengals organization. He is believed to be a big reason why the Bengals brought in Andrew Hawkins in the first place.

In addition to Artrell, Andrew has quite a few relatives with ties to football. His father, Artrell Hawkins Sr. was a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1970's. His younger stepbrother, Wayne Jones, is an offensive lineman at the University of Pittsburgh. One of his cousins, Geroy Simon, will soon become first all-time in career CFL receiving yards (he already has a whopping 15,807 yards). And another cousin, Carlton Haselrig was a Pro Bowl offensive guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990's.

+Toledo: Andrew attended the University of Toledo from 2004-2007, and was the first two-way player at Toledo in 48 years. That is, he played both cornerback and wide receiver. His total statistics aren't impressive, but he was an important cog on the Toledo team. His career receiving stats were 67 catches, 634 yards, 4 touchdown receptions. He was also used to run the football, where he totaled 109 yards and 1 touchdown from 25 rushing attempts. On defense and special teams, he had 17 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and a blocked punt. He returned kickoffs in his senior year, totaling 358 kick return yards and an average of 23.4 on returnable kicks. He was also regarded as one of the top two punt gunners in the MAC conference. He played with Saints' WR Lance Moore during his freshman season, and caught passes from the Bengals' backup QB Bruce Gradkowski in 2004 and 2005.

All in all, he played wide receiver, running back, cornerback, punt gunner, and kickoff returner.

Additionally, though he didn't lead the team in any statistics totals, he was a huge locker room presence:

"We had a lot of young receivers who were really talented. We had a sophomore who caught for 1,300 yards and another one who caught for 900 yards, and I was kind of the leader," Hawkins said. "I might not have had the most yards, but they came to me.

"In a situation where my coach needed help communicating with anybody or getting anybody to step up in practice, he came to me and I took care of it."

"They know what kind of player I am, that I'll do anything for the team," Hawkins said. "I'm more of a sacrifice yourself to get a "W" for the team, but they knew that. They put me in a position where if I could help the team, I would do it as long as it helped get the win."

Not only was Hawkins a natural leader, but his work ethic and practice habits separated himself from others too:

"He's a guy that can make a big play at any time and really change field position fast because he has impeccable speed," said Toledo head coach Tom Amstutz. "He always practices at full-speed. He does a great job."

"He was our leader in the receiver room this year and also with the team," said Toledo wide receivers coach Chris Hedden. "He is one of those players that works his tail off all the time and sets an example for the rest of our players. He deserves all the success he comes across, because he earns it everyday on that practice field."

+Post-Graduation: It was Hawkins' performance at the Toledo Pro Day that finally put him on the map for some NFL scouts. He was timed at an incredible 4.34 in the 40-yard dash, along with impressive cone and shuffle times, and an unbelievable 38" vertical jump (AJ Green had a 34.5").

Despite his athleticism, no teams reached out to Hawkins before the 2008 NFL draft and he fell undrafted. In the summer, he received an invitation from the Cleveland Browns to participate in their April minicamp [Video: Hawkins' WR drills during Browns minicamp], but Hawkins was not signed. In fact, the Browns seems rather rude to Hawkins, according to an interview with Geoff Hobson:

He got a tryout with the Browns in an April minicamp of 2008 and after they told him he was impressive and they were going to sign him, they signed a linebacker.

“Size came up,” Andrew Hawkins says. “I asked them if I could have a tape of my camp so I could send it out to NFL teams and to Canada, but they wouldn’t give it to me. I kept calling, I kept writing. Finally a guy that I knew got a job with them and helped me out.”

Stupid Browns.

+Out Of Football: During the 2008 football season, Hawkins was officially out of football. In the summer of 2008, he stayed busy by working long shifts at a windmill factory for $9.50/hour. Sometimes he would work 15-hour days. He also worked as a caddie at a country club. He did all of this while sleeping on the couch of his former Toledo teammate, wide receiver Steve Williams.

That fall, Hawkins would return to Toledo to finish his degree and help coaching the Toledo wide receivers as a graduate assistant.

Before the Toledo football season was over, Hawkins learned that he would have an opportunity to revive his career through two different endeavors - a reality television show named 4th & Long, and a career in the Canadian Football League. These two undertakings proved to be the new beginning of Hawkins' path to the NFL.

I'll cover these two parts of Hawkins' career (along with his time on the Bengals) in a later article. I've written too much for one article! Thanks for reading, and follow me on Twitter: @JustBeWarned