Hawkinson Looking Forward To Making An Impact On The O-Line

June 29, 2009

Two weeks before the Kansas football team began its 2009 spring season, head coach Mark Mangino called redshirt freshman defensive end Tanner Hawkinson into his office. The coaches had decided to move Jeremiah Hatch to his more natural position of center. That meant there was a void at left tackle on the offensive line and the team needed Hawkinson to fill it. This meant the first-year Jayhawk would need to learn a different position on the other side of the football.

Hawkinson had played tight end and defensive end in high school. He came to KU as a tight end and switched to defensive end halfway through 2008 while spending the season as a redshirt. The idea of changing positions a few months later did not sit easily with Hawkinson.

“It was kind of tough at first,” Hawkinson said. “Going through one position change is kind of hard, especially when you come in with the mindset that you’re going to be playing tight end your whole career. I changed my mindset when I switched to defense and then had to change it again when I moved to offensive line.”

The transition from defensive end to offensive tackle meant changing his entire game.

“It’s a whole new mindset because there are different mentalities on both offense and defense,” the McPherson, Kan. native said. “Also, learning a whole new position was tough. To be an offensive lineman you have to be pretty big, so I had to change my diet pretty significantly so I could gain the weight needed to play the position.”

To gain weight, Hawkinson eats about five meals per day, including two high-protein weight-gainer shakes provided by his strength coach, Chris Dawson. He came to KU at 245 pounds and then started the transition in spring 2009 at 260 pounds. By mid-June he raised his weight to 279 pounds.

“Tanner has made a consistent and concerted effort to increase his caloric intake over the last several months,” Dawson said. “Combined with his daily training regimen, he has been able to gain quite a bit of weight to aid in making the transition from tight end to offensive tackle. He still has a lot of work to do, but it certainly makes for a good start.”

“I gained about 10 pounds or so pretty easily and then I just kind of plateaued and it took a while for me to get over 270 pounds,” Hawkinson said. “Now it’s coming on a little bit more easily again. My target weight is 290 pounds.”

Unlike most football players reinventing themselves at a new position, Hawkinson is expected to contribute in the starting lineup right away this season. Offensive line coach John Reagan’s coaching as well as Hawkinson’s own previous experience playing tight end has helped speed the transition. Reagan works closely in improving Hawkinson’s skill in his new position.

“When you have a player that wants to do well and help his team, it makes the transition much easier,” Reagan said. “He still has a lot of improvement to make, but Tanner has definitely shown that he is willing to work to make himself and his team better and he has the athletic ability to succeed in this position.”

“It came pretty easily for me,” Hawkinson said. “My athletic ability also helped me because you have to be pretty quick to get back on your pass sets and pretty quick and agile to get to the second level to block the linebackers.”

Besides gaining weight and learning plays, Hawkinson has also had to overcome the mental transition of the new position. Thanks to experience at the position during the spring season and similar footwork to the tight end position, Hawkinson has found success.

“Mentally I was just trying to take everything in that the coaches were saying, taking it bit by bit because I had never played the position before,” said the redshirt freshman. “I’ve been trying to improve something every day. I’m trying to not focus on everything at one time, but taking things as I can.”

The left tackle position also comes with a little more pressure than tight end or defensive end. Quarterback Todd Reesing is right-handed, which means Hawkinson is in charge of protecting his blindside. That responsibility is not lost on Hawkinson.

“I’m confident in myself and I’m still improving over the summer,” Hawkinson said. “I also have the other offensive linemen helping me a lot. I think by the time the season starts I will be confident enough to take on the challenge. With someone like me who has never played left tackle, I think there is a little added pressure.”

Throughout his physical and mental transitions, success in the new position and added pressures, Hawkinson has not lost his sense of team.

“I didn’t have any certain goals set before I came,” he said. “I just wanted to come, get better and contribute. Now I will have an opportunity with the offensive line.”