They’re everywhere these days, but it’s possible that the Hawkinson family was one that inspired the license plates that read: A House Divided.
Back in McPherson, where junior offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson grew up, his house — and ancestry, really — clearly defined the line between Jayhawks and Wildcats. His mother, Kathy, and nearly all of her relatives were Kansas University people. His father, Griff, came from Kansas State blood.
As the two schools prepare to tangle at 11 a.m. Saturday for the annual Sunflower Showdown at Memorial Stadium, many memories have come rushing back at the Hawkinson house.
Although Tanner and his three siblings leaned toward and ultimately attended KU, his father’s influence was a factor.
“I remember growing up, he took me and my brother to a couple K-State games,” Hawkinson said. “But my mom’s side was pretty much all KU, so he was a little outnumbered.”
That’s what made it weird when K-State was the first school to contact Hawkinson about playing college football. At the time, Griff secretly hoped that the early interest from his alma mater might be enough to sway his son. But he wasn’t optimistic.
“I knew from the beginning that, if he had an opportunity, which none of us really anticipated, he’d probably end up at KU,” Griff said. “At that point, whatever he wanted to do was fine.”
So fine, in fact, that Griff drove Hawkinson to Lawrence for camps throughout high school. It was on one of those father-son road trips, the summer before Hawkinson’s senior year at McPherson High, that he broke the news to his dad. He was going to be a Jayhawk.
Griff has come to terms with his son’s standing as one of KU’s best and most experienced players. He has learned to embrace it, even though, as he says, he has yet to wave the wheat.
“I’m actually wearing blue to the games,” Griff said. “I actually have worn some apparel that says Kansas on the front, which was hard to come by the first couple of years. And, during this game, yes, I will always cheer for the Jayhawks as long as Tanner’s playing. I cheer as hard as I can. I pull for them as best as I can, but I’m still a Wildcat at heart.”
As far as the rest of the family’s concerned, that’s good enough.
“As a family, we tried not to play the rivalry up,” Kathy said. “But it’s definitely been a thrill to see Tanner at KU because there’s an awful lot of tradition involved.”
Strike up the band
As if preparing offensive and defensive game plans doesn’t take enough time, KSU coach Bill Snyder has made sure to focus on one extra detail during this week’s practice.
While working out his team at Snyder Family Stadium, the veteran KSU coach has instructed school officials to blare the KU fight song repeatedly throughout practice. While the tune probably made most Wildcats a little queasy, at least one saw the move for its intended purpose.
“It will help us get accustomed to what Memorial Stadium is like and what it sounds like when everybody is in full swing playing the KU fight song and chant,” KSU lineman B.J. Finney said. “It is just a mental preparation for us.”
“It’s a rivalry game (and that) gets the blood flowing, gives us some extra motivation,” junior tight end Travis Tannahill said of hearing the KU fight song. “Coach is just giving us a little more to get us going. The song wasn’t on for long. We need it to practice our audibles and center snaps, so it really does help get us ready for Saturday.”
Gill on Klein
KU coach Turner Gill said Tuesday that weeks such as this were the type that get him fired up enough to want to put on a uniform.
But while Gill was known at Nebraska as an elite running quarterback, he’ll have to leave the rushing to K-State’s Collin Klein this week, who leads the Wildcats with 578 yards and 10 touchdowns. The yardage total ranks fourth in the Big 12. The touchdowns are the most by a Big 12 player so far this season. The combination, along with 739 yards and seven touchdowns through the air, have earned Gill’s respect.
“Collin Klein is definitely a good runner,” Gill said. “He’s big and strong. He’s probably faster than what you’d think to look at him. It doesn’t look like he’s moving, but he’s moving. He’s also powerful. He can run over you, and he can do a lot of good things. You’ve got to stop the run first. That’s what they do.”
The current rosters for each school reveal that Kansas State has more than twice as many players from Kansas on its roster. Including walk-ons, K-State suits 52 players from the Sunflower State, while KU rolls out just 24 Kansans.
Some are former high school teammates. KU’s Adonis Saunders, Victor Simmons and Kevin Young teamed with K-State’s Tre Walker at Olathe North High. It’s that kind of bond, among other factors, that makes the rivalry special
“I actually received a call from Tre last night, asking me if I was ready,” Simmons said Tuesday. “We’re not gonna do any trash-talking to each other yet, but it’s all out of love.
Tharp now questionable
The only change on the injury front for KU on Wednesday involved sophomore linebacker Huldon Tharp, who is questionable for Saturday because of a rib injury. Also questionable are safety Keeston Terry and center Jeremiah Hatch. Gill said Hatch’s availability was likely to be decided on Saturday. Senior running back Rell Lewis remains out, and red-shirt freshman tailback Brandon Bourbon is expected to return.