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Hernando High

Ex-Leopard Hawkins settles in Bluejays' nest

Hernando Today correspondent


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When healthy, the chiseled, 5-foot-10, 205-pound O'Mar D'vontae Hawkins has been a force in any of the four organized sports he's ever competed in.

The recent Hernando High graduate has overcome a broken hip as a freshman, plus a shoulder injury as a junior, to sign a letter of intent to play his favorite sport - football - next fall for the NAIA Tabor College Bluejays in Hillsboro, Kan.

Tabor College is a four-year Christian liberal arts college. This fall, skipper Mike Gardner will begin his sixth year at the helm. The Jays finished 2012 at 8-2 overall. Gardner is 60-36 lifetime.

In Hawkins' mind, God was sending him a clear message.

"I always dreamed about playing for a big school - somebody like Georgia Tech - but God had other plans," declared the New Port Richey-born but Brooksville-raised Hawkins. "Because of the injuries I think God didn't want me to go to a big school and get lost there.

"Tabor is a nice Christian college. It's a good fit for me," he added. "I would like to be injury-free for at least two years to see what I could do."

Hawkins, one of eight children to Riot and Christa Hawkins, excelled in baseball, football, basketball, track and field and weightlifting at the 700 Bell Ave. campus of Hernando High.

"Football is by far my favorite sport," boasted Hawkins. "I love the competition and I love inflicting pain. In football, you like to make an impact for the crowd. When I'm on the football field there's a huge bond; I'm brothers with my teammates."

Hawkins admits there was serious interest from five schools including: Tabor, Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., Graceland University in Iowa, Quincy University in Illinois and Adrian in Michigan.

The final decision was not easy.

"I looked at everything from athletics to academics," pointed out Hawkins, who was recruited as an outside linebacker/strong safety. "Tabor has reached the playoffs and they have a top-notch defense. That's something I could impact the team with."

The Brooksville resident was captivated by the straight talk of the Bluejays' linebackers coach, "He told me they had a lot of senior linebackers and only two are coming back," recalled Hawkins. "He said 'If you want to start, you have to fight for it.'"

On the transition from the prep ranks to the college level, "I've been a grandma's boy for a long time," noted Hawkins. "It's time to grow up and get out of here."

Hawkins, who graduated with a 2.7 grade point average, says his ultimate goal "is to play in the NFL. If that doesn't happen, I'd like to come back to my community and became a youth league football coach. So many people helped me along the line; I'd like to do the same for the next generation of football players."

On overcoming his biggest obstacle, "I know what I have to do to be successful," explained Hawkins. "I don't see any problems staying on my bookwork. I have to make sure I stay out of trouble."

???Hawkins' original athletic roots trace back to when he was 6. He recalls the first of several seasons of playing in the Hernando Youth League football ranks against former Nature Coast products Tevin Drake and Ike Bailey. He mostly played running back and linebacker.

Next, he remembers playing right field in rec baseball at Brooksville's Kennedy Park.

His initial season of hoops was at Hernando Christian Academy during his seventh-grade year.

He matriculated to Parrott for his eighth-grade year. At Parrott, he participated in football lining up at running back and linebacker.

In hoops, "I was the defensive enforcer," recalls Hawkins. "Coach would usually have me cover the toughest guy."

In track and field, Hawkins called the 100, 4x100 relay and long jump his home. He was tabbed county champion in both the long jump and 4x100.

After matriculating to HHS, Hawkins played football for parts of three seasons. As a freshman, his JV season was curtailed by the broken hip.

He played on the varsity level as a sophomore before injuring his shoulder in the spring drills prior to his junior year. Due to the injury, he missed the entire 2011 season.

As a senior, while the Leopards made their third straight playoff appearance - setting a school record - he finished as the team's fifth-leading tackler (30 solos, 26 assists).

In hoops, his late-season football hip injury as a freshman allowed him to only participate in one JV contest.

As a sophomore, he played the entire season injury-free at the JV level. He missed his junior hoops campaign due to the aforementioned shoulder injury.

As a senior, he played the entire season as a swing man at the varsity level under mentor Mark Latsko, who has since become head football coach at Gainesville.

In track and field, Hawkins collected four varsity letters. He also earned four varsity letters in weightlifting. The two-time county champion qualified for states twice: as a junior and senior.

Looking back at his Purple and Gold athletic career has left Hawkins asking, "What if?"

"I know the injuries I suffered held me back," he said. "But I thought I did a good job coming all the way back twice."

Recalling his football experience, "We did well, but I think we could have gone further," he said.

On his days on the oval, "In track, you always like to show your speed and show weapons you got. My freshman and sophomore seasons of track were my favorite," Hawkins said. "A lot of guys were into it. Not as many guys came out later. I just did it for fun."

Recalling the heartache of not placing (top six) at states after going unbeaten in weightlifting, "Everyone else has told me to forget about it," indicated Hawkins. "But it's hard to forget something I loved doing for so long. My favorite class was weightlifting.

"I got into a groove as a junior and reached states. My number one goal was to medal as a senior," he said. "When I needed to go high as I could in my cleans at states, I told some of the guys that I wasn't feeling it in the warm-ups. Normally, I have the drive to blowup, say, 275 pounds in my cleans. That day, I really struggled. Not medaling almost made me cry. It was so hard to leave (states) empty-handed."

???Before making the nearly 21-hour, 1,400-mile, one-way commute from HHS to Tabor College, Hawkins took a moment to thank his many local supporters for this opportunity.

"I first have to thank my momma and my grandma Ruby for all their support. Grandma Rudy has always been there for me, no matter what I was doing," shared Hawkins. "I have to thank Coach Latsko. He helped me grow in football, basketball and weightlifting. He's a college-level coach. He's hard on the guys, but in a good way. I know Gainesville's got a great coach over there now."

"I've also got to thank Dave Ambrose," said Hawkins. "He's like my agent. He acted as a mentor to me. Anytime I had a question or concern, we'd have lunch and sit and talk.

"I'll always have a special spot for my workout partners, Robert Hill (Bronson) and Kyle (Loparco)," added Hawkins. "Both those guys pushed me hard. Even on the days I didn't feel 100 percent, they encouraged me to do better and to stay with it."

"I can't ever repay Coach (Tom) Bronson," stressed Hawkins. "He was like my second daddy. He helped me grow up. He's a great person and great coach."

Hawkins said of his future, "I have to thank God for pushing me through all the obstacles in my life. I couldn't have done it without His divine work. I hope my friends and teammates will remember me as a guy who wanted to inflict pain and that had my teammates' backs."

By the numbers: Hernando's O'Mar Hawkins

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2010 22 14 36 6.0 1.0 0 1 0 3 2 1

2011 DNP/INJ

2012 30 26 56 7.0 3.5 3 1 1 5 1* 0

TOTALS 52 40 92 13.0 4.5 3 2 1 8 3* 1

* Denotes touchdown

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