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Monday, August 30, 2010

Kind of a big deal: Beefed-up Hawkinson finds home on O-line

After spending time at tight end and defensive line, Tanner Hawkinson seems to have found the position for him — offensive line — on Kansas University’s football team.

After spending time at tight end and defensive line, Tanner Hawkinson seems to have found the position for him — offensive line — on Kansas University’s football team.

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There were times during the past couple of years when Kansas University football junior Tim Biere could have killed Tanner Hawkinson.

Just about every night, Hawkinson, now a third-year sophomore from McPherson, would stroll into the apartment they shared with a bag full of the finest fast food Lawrence had to offer and proceed to chow down.

There were tacos spilling out sacks; big, fat greasy burgers piled on top of bottomless batches of french fries; and pizza that seemed to come in endless supply.

The reason Hawkinson was able to feast on the type of food not often associated with college athletes was because, after arriving on campus as a tight end and taking a brief detour on the defensive line, Hawkinson was moved by the former KU coaching staff to the offensive line. In order for him to survive, he had to bulk up.

Biere, a tight end, knew that. But that didn’t mean it always seemed fair.

“That spring (of 2009), he was just eating all the time,” Biere said. “He would come home with fast food and just be destroying it. I was always like, ‘I wish I could eat like you.’”

A little more than a year later, after spending the 2009 season at left tackle and more than holding his own, Hawkinson enters his second year on the O-line as one of the hottest commodities in the Big 12.

A preseason All-Big 12 first-team selection by the media, Hawkinson finally feels comfortable at the position and appears poised for another strong season. That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t moments when he still scratches his head and wonders how all of this came to be.

“It’s pretty surprising, the stuff that can happen,” Hawkinson said. “I just wanted to come in and try to help my team, and I didn’t really expect any of this stuff to happen. They told me there was an opportunity to get on the field and get some playing time, and I just kind of took it and figured I’d do my best. I definitely wasn’t expecting this at all.”

Out of high school, Hawkinson was a highly recruited tight end with soft hands and exceptional athletic ability. His future, he assumed, was in catching passes, not protecting the guys who throw them.

“You’d be surprised at how many former tight ends end up playing on the offensive line,” current KU line coach J.B. Grimes said. “You’re always looking for athleticism. And you’re looking for guys that can move their feet and can run. Tanner’s a heck of an athlete. I tell people I’ve got one good eye, and I’ve got one bad eye, and I keep my good eye on those tight ends.”

Before finding a home on the O-Line, Hawkinson briefly was switched to the defensive line. At the time, he was OK with the move. The one thing he knew for sure, though, was that he did not want any more position changes in his future.

“It’s been kind of crazy just to see the transformation,” Biere said. “He came in with me as a tight end, and he was a really good tight end. After the switch, he just kept saying, ‘I’m not playing offensive line, I’m not playing offensive line.’ He didn’t want to do it, and then he finally gave in.”

From there, things unfolded rapidly. Although Hawkinson admits to playing most of last season with his head swirling, you’d never know it from looking at his numbers. He started all 12 games at left tackle, was one of the team’s most reliable linemen and racked up nearly a dozen different national postseason honors. In addition to helping him settle in as a full-fledged offensive lineman, 2009 allowed Hawkinson to believe the things he was hearing about his potential to play in the NFL.

“As the season went on, he played really well,” Biere said. “I think he saw all these awards coming in — freshman All-American and things like that — and I think he thought, ‘I could play on Sundays. This could be my thing.’

“I think it’ll be way easier for him this year. (In 2008) he didn’t even travel with the team and so last year he was always asking, ‘What do we have to do, what’s this going to be like?’ I remember after that first game, he realized why he was playing football and he just fell in love with it. Last year, people had to kind of help him through the offense, and this year he’s the one helping people.”

With the transition behind him, Hawkinson has turned his attention to fine-tuning his skills. That has meant extra time in the film room with seniors Brad Thorson and Sal Capra, extra attention to detail when watching others play on television and plenty of self-evaluation.

“It took some time for me to get used to the offensive line,” Hawkinson said. “Now that I’m comfortable with it and comfortable with the new offense and the new staff, I can start critiquing myself as far as, ‘Oh, I need to take a better step here or a better step there,’ and those kinds of things. I kind of catch myself watching the offensive line more than I used to, just kind of watching how those guys do their stuff. Obviously, you have the same techniques, but you kind of have your own style.”

Now that he weighs around 295 pounds — he came to KU at 243 — the heavy eating has subsided for the 6-foot-6 Hawkinson. But the mentality so often associated with offensive linemen is just beginning to pick up steam.

“I think once you put on the weight, you become an O-lineman, and there’s no going back,” Biere said. “You take on that mind-set, the O-lineman mind-set, and Tanner definitely has that.”

Added KU quarterback Kale Pick: “I definitely think he’s transferred into a lineman.”

Comments

KU_Alumn_2000 4 years, 1 month ago

Not only will Hawkinson play on Sundays...he will excel at it. At 6 ft 6...and most likely 300+ pounds someday...with his athleticsm...the sky is the limit for him.

I know there are a lot of mangino haters out there...but MM and co. did a good job at invisioning his potential for becoming a lineman as opposed to a tight end.

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jhawkrulz 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for your post!!

MM and Company did a lot of great things for KU and he should be remembered for that.

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KU_FanSince75 4 years, 1 month ago

KU_Alumn_2000--Totally agree. And coached by Tom Young at McPherson High School, who formerly coached at my home town high school, Derby High School. So, I would love to see Mr. Hawkinson play on Sundays!

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John Randall 4 years, 1 month ago

It just goes to show you –– Never say NEVER !

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Jaminrawk 4 years, 1 month ago

Hawkinson is just now tapping into his potential. I think after this season people are going to be listing him as one of the elite left tackles in college football. Grimes should really help his development.

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Jonathan Allison 4 years, 1 month ago

But will he be tapped in the NFL draft after this season or next? What team is doing the tapping? How much money will he be tapping into?

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justanotherfan 4 years, 1 month ago

For Hawkinson to succeed at the next level, he's either going to have to move inside to guard or put on another 25-30 pounds. I don't think there is a single tackle in the NFL now that is under 320. I think Hawkinson can/will play in the NFL. I'm not sure it will be at tackle unless he can put on more weight, which, for a guy that showed up on campus at 240, playing at 320 might not be possible for him.

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number1jayhawker 4 years, 1 month ago

I disagree that he needs to that much weight on to be a good NFL tackle. He just needs to add more muscle, especially upper body. DEs are not usally the bigger delinemen, but they are the quicker ones. To counter that, the tackles have to move well and if he gained too much weight, that could slow him down too much.

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justinryman 4 years, 1 month ago

Can anyone say, "Tackle eligible"?

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David Lara 4 years ago

I was looking to post the exact same thing.

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hawk316 4 years, 1 month ago

Good article, Matt. Tanner was a great find for MM, and the move to the O-line was a good one. I agree with KUAlum that this was one of Mangino's success stories. I'm a huge Turner Gill fan and was very glad we made the coaching change, but MM did some good things while here. Let's give credit where credit is due.

And speaking of Turner Gill, there is an outstanding article about him in the KC Star (link below). I posted it elsewhere, but thought I'd do so again for those who may have missed it. Apparently, some are still not totally convinced that Gill was the right choice to replace Mangino. This article may finally persuade you otherwise. Go to:

http://www.kansascity.com/2010/08/28/2176330/turning-point-gill-brings-new.html

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buckleyhawk 4 years, 1 month ago

Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone had a son, and named him Tanner, Tanner Hawkinson.

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David Lara 4 years ago

Yeah, he definitely looks like he ate the whole wheel of cheese.

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