Andrew Hawkins never forgets his roots.
Currently a wide receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals, the 2004 Bishop McCort graduate made an area appearance Saturday at the inaugural Wounded Warrior Charity Flag Football Tournament held at Scalp Level Trinity United Methodist Church.
As soon as Hawkins walked onto the church grounds, people began asking for his autograph.
“I don’t think you ever get used to people coming up and asking for an autograph or wanting to get a picture taken with you,” he chuckled. “We come from little, old Johnstown where everyone knows everyone, so it’s been a shock to me that people are excited to meet me.
“I don’t get back to Johnstown very often because of the year-round training and what not. I get here to see my family as much as I can and they will come out and see me. Every time I’m here, it’s hard to leave because you go right back to the high-school mode.”
Hawkins, who went to college at Toledo, said he was delighted to return to the area for Saturday’s charity event.
“Obviously, as a professional football player you can’t take every request that you get, but this is such a special cause with the wounded warriors and I’ve done other things with the Wounded Warrior Project in Ohio,” Hawkins said. “And especially with it being back here near my home town, it was a no-brainer. As soon as the Bengals contacted me in March, I agreed to it. It was one of those things that I’m happy to come home and I’m happy to help out especially for such a great cause.
“It’s great to be back here. I attribute a lot of where I am now to what I obviously learned here in Johnstown. The people are so special, especially when you’ve been all over the country and out of the country. There’s nothing like the people from around here. It really is special and I get excited every time I get to do it.”
Generously listed at 5-foot-7, Hawkins has been able to make contributions to the Bengals and has an excellent working relationship with coach Marvin Lewis.
“Marvin is my guy,” Hawkins said. “He was the coach that gave me a chance. The first day of camp I came in and the very first practice he got me in there and threw me the ball. After that, he said that he was going to have me hit the ground running. He said he knew that if nothing else, that I was going to work hard. From then on, I’ve given him everything I have. I appreciate him giving me the opportunity because there were a lot of times that I didn’t think I would get a chance so I appreciate Marvin.”
Hawkins said that the Bengals had a good draft this year.
“We got a big tight end from Notre Dame in the first round and an exciting running back in the second round,” Hawkins said. “From an offensive perspective, we have a lot of weapons. We already had a pretty good base of young players that are starting to catch their stride and we’re hoping the guys we’ve added this year will help get us over the hump. We’re in a tough division.”
The former Crimson Crushers standout was also excited that former Greater Johnstown standout LaRod Stephens-Howling would be returning to western Pennsylvania after being signed as a free agent with the Steelers.
“I’ve known him for my entire life since we were around 3 or 4 and we’ve played each other on every level,” said Hawkins, who was a year ahead of Stephens-Howling in high school. “It’s pretty crazy to think about. It’s awesome and I’m so happy for him to get to play for the Steelers. I hope he wins 14 games this year and loses two. Besides that ,I wish him nothing but the best.”
Seventeen teams were preregistered at the flag football tournament, which was the brain child of Ron and Dominic Mash of Windber.
“My brother Dominic called me about a year ago and suggested a flag football game and that expanded to a flag football tournament,” Ron Mash said. “I’m a wounded warrior myself; I was in Iraq in 2008, so I wanted to help others that were like me. I’m not as bad as so many others that come back without arms and legs and those without housing or someone that needs help with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I just wanted to try to help all of them because I’ve seen the injuries some of my friends have suffered and I just wanted to make sure that they are all helped.”
Participants at the tournament were between the ages 18-57.
“I was impressed that there are so many who are willing to help out veterans,” Ron Mash said. “We had a lot of people that have helped us out with sponsorships and raising money for wounded warriors.
“This is working out great and I hope that next year’s will be even bigger now that everybody sees what it is.”
Some of the players suggested that Hawkins get out on the field of play Saturday.
“I wish I could suit up for one of these teams, but my contract won’t let me,” Hawkins said. “There are guys here that I know and played with in high school and those that are older that coached me and those that I played against. It’s cool.”
Ron Mash added: “I had five catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns in one game. Quenteen Robinson is here and he’s my age and he still has it and looks like he’s about 18.
“It’s a great event for a great cause.”