The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

January 12, 2011

Hawkins signs deal with Rams

Two weeks ago, Andrew Hawkins frequently used the word perseverance while addressing the crowd at the Point Stadium Award banquet.

The Bishop McCort High School graduate from Johnstown wore an oversized and glimmering Grey Cup championship ring he earned during the 2009 season with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League. The versatile slot back soon will get another ring as a result of Montreal’s successful defense of its crown this season.

Hawkins, 24, spoke of his refusal to give up his dream of playing at a Division I football program despite often hearing how he didn’t have the size or tools to make it on the big stage. Hawkins beat the odds and stood out at the University of Toledo.

When there were no NFL teams calling, he eventually landed with Montreal in the CFL. In between, he was a reality TV star on Michael Irvin’s “Fourth and Long” series.

On Wednesday, Hawkins took yet another monumental step up the career ladder as he signed a two-year contract with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

“You stay steadfast toward your goal and God is going to work it out,” said Hawkins in a telephone interview. “I’ve got a long way to go, but this is a big step for me. I feel the St. Louis Rams are going to be a good fit.”

The 7-9 Rams barely missed the playoffs during a down year in the NFL West. St. Louis was in the hunt until a loss to division champion Seattle Seahawks in the regular-season finale.

The Rams appear to be a team on the rise under coach Steve Spagnuolo. St. Louis is only a year removed from a 1-15 record that earned it the top pick in April’s NFL draft, where it took quarterback Sam Bradford.

“The Rams have a great young quarterback, which is always good,” Hawkins said. “The personnel staff is great. They’re an up-and-coming team. They were a couple quarters away from being in the playoffs this year.”

Montreal General Manager Jim Popp said Hawkins’ NFL opportunity is the result of hard work and persistence.

“I’m very happy for Andrew,” said Popp, the son of Cambria County Hall of Famer Joe Popp. “It’s been a long recovery from his (leg) injury from a year ago. It sounds like things have continued to get better for him and he’s been able to work out well for teams.

“He made it very clear to us that this is what he wanted to do. He was close (to making a NFL roster) before he came to Montreal. He was in camp with the Browns and it didn’t work out. Before his injury he was doing well. He was able to work his way back onto the field and give us production and help us win a Grey Cup. He’s worked his tail off.”

Hawkins hopes to be the second member of his immediate family to play in the NFL.

His older brother, Artrell Hawkins Jr., had a 10-year career in the NFL and played for Cincinnati, Carolina and New England.

A cousin, Geroy Simon, is one of the most prolific receivers in CFL history with the British Columbia Lions.

“My family is super excited,” said Andrew Hawkins, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound receiver who caught 41 passes for 457 yards and five touchdowns for Montreal. “They might be more excited than I am. When you’ve went through the struggles with someone and you go through the whole thing, you are part of the success, too. I have to thank my coaches all along the way, like coach (Ken) Salem and coach (Jeremy) Burkett. There are many people who have been in my corner. The whole City of Johnstown, it all goes a long way.”

Andrew Hawkins said he began working out immediately after the CFL season ended last month. He worked out for the Bengals earlier this week and was offered a contract on Tuesday. He also auditioned for the Rams and received an offer.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I kept telling myself if I keep working everything would work out in the long run. The injuries, the TV show, college, the NFL. Everything will work out. It’s just beginning steps, and it took a long time to get to this point, but I’m excited about the opportunity.”

 

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