One week before the biggest game of his life, Brayden Hawkins wasn’t thinking about the X’s and O’s. He was worried about whether his grandmother would die.
Hawkins, then a junior quarterback at Dillon (S.C.) High, would much rather have pondered the strategy against Chapman High ahead of the 2016 state championship. But no, he was preoccupied over his grandmother, who was hospitalized because of severe diabetes. It later caused a massive heart attack.
He’s used to this by now – being able to drain distractions to play at a high level. But this was different. Even though Hawkins played well, throwing for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 29-27 loss, his grandmother’s illness affected him then and still does today. It’s another gut wrench on a recent tally of trials.
In four years of high school, Hawkins has transferred twice. Until his sophomore year, he played at York High (S.C.). Last year, he was at Dillon. Now, he’s nestled in Myers Park High as a senior.
Every move has been tied to a health issue for a dear loved one. His grandmother is back in the hospital in jeopardy of a foot amputation. His grandfather has cancer. His mother has occipital neuralgia – a disease that asserts pressure on the brain and spinal cord, causing erratic fainting.
There’s a lot on his mind other than football.
Now, perched as the leader of a rebuilding Mustangs team, Hawkins must rebuild himself as well. If he wants to play college football, he’ll have to stay focused even as life tugs at him.
But he’s done that for a while, and he said he won’t stop now.
“I want to do everything I can to help my team because I know my team is going to go, me being a quarterback, as far as I’m going to take them,” Hawkins said. “I can’t worry about everything else because I can’t control it. I just have to control what I can.”
Setting the record straight
Mike Hawkins said it’s easy for his son to filter himself from the other burdens. He puts in the time to succeed, and the stats prove it.
Last year alone, Hawkins threw for 2,734 yards and 31 touchdowns at Dillon. He was invited to the regional Nike Opening, a nationally competitive camp, and the Observer has listed him as a top prospect for the upcoming season. He’s playing Friday and Saturday at the Powerade 7-on-7 Invitational tournament at Matthews Sportsplex.
So far he has two college offers – both from Division II schools. His nomadic lifestyle has made college coaches apprehensive.
On a recruiting trip to Ball State last month, Hawkins impressed the head coach, but he left without a scholarship offer. His father said the coach told him he wouldn’t offer him because he fears Brayden will leave.
Mike Hawkins said that saddened him.
“It breaks my heart to watch him get penalized for something that he has no power over,” he said. “Not one move or one transfer was Brayden’s decision.”
Mike Hawkins works as a private contractor, which forces him to travel constantly. And Kristy Hawkins – Brayden’s mother – has ailing parents who live in Myers Park, and traveled up I-77 frequently from their South Carolina home to care for them.
Each school transfer made sense for the family, but not to college coaches looking at Hawkins’ recruiting resume. Hawkins said people – even former teammates – have questioned his transfers. Having that as his only blemish is frustrating, but he said it also fuels him.
“It’s hard for me to hear that somebody is not taking me because I’ve moved all these times for family troubles, but I know I’m good enough,” Hawkins said. “It’s hard for me to hear, but at the same time it just makes me work harder.
“I want them to be like, ‘We should have taken him.’”
Ending up where he needed to be
That relentless mentality has impressed Myers Park head coach Scott Chadwick. When he learned Hawkins was coming to Charlotte, he immediately watched Hawkins’ film. But in coaching Hawkins, Chadwick saw more.
“Film doesn’t do him justice,” Chadwick said. “He’s always learning, he’s always working out, and he’s a real student of the game.”
Hawkins, who wants to be a forensic scientist after college, constantly studies film, dissecting an opponent’s coverages and tendencies to be ready for Friday nights.
Chadwick said that’s a real asset because he knows he can depend on him to be prepared. He also has the tools he needs. He has two stellar receivers in Providence Day transfer Muhsin Muhammad – son of the former Carolina Panthers receiver – and Elijah Bowick, who broke Myers Park’s season records for receiving yards (1,190) and touchdowns (19) last year.
Chadwick said he plans on putting Hawkins under center and in the shotgun to display his strong arm, which he called his greatest tool.
Hawkins said he’s happy with the situation he’s in. He’s primed with the opportunity to succeed and he is ready to capitalize on it. But his grandparents’ conditions give him a different outlook.
“Football is just a game and there’s way more to life than football,” Hawkins said. “Seeing my grandparents go through these kinds of things makes what I have gone through not that bad. I want to be a team player and do everything I can to help my team out and just get a W every week. And at the end of the season, I’m going to be somewhere that God wants me to be.”
Emmanuel Morgan: 704-358-5337, @_EmmanuelMorgan
Want to go?
Powerade 7-on-7 Invitational Tournament pool play starts Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m at the Matthews Sportsplex. Double elimination bracket play begins Saturday at 9 a.m. Admission for the public is $5.