September 1, 2010 10:02:00 AM
SCOOBA -- Devin Hawkins learned a lot in his first season at East Mississippi Community College.
Not only did he get stronger and quicker, but he gained a new appreciation for junior college football.
But all of that improvement was nearly wiped out earlier this year. In April, Hawkins thought he had a stomach virus while training in practice. Whatever the ailment, it was bad enough that it made him unable to complete his work.
Hawkins felt so bad he didn''t go to dinner that night and then threw up all evening and into the morning. He discovered how bad he was doing when he went to the doctor the next day.
It was a good thing he did, too, because Hawkins needed surgery for a ruptured appendix.
After staying in the hospital for two weeks, Hawkins had to return to the hospital because of a complication with his small intestine, which forced him to have another surgery.
The procedures forced Hawkins to lose nearly 30 pounds and sapped the strength he had gained.
But Hawkins is nearly back to 100 percent as No. 7 EMCC prepares to face No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast at 7 p.m. Thursday (WFCA 107.9 FM) in Perkinston. He hopes he can play a key role Thursday and this season at defensive end for the defending MACJC state champions.
"I am truly blessed," Hawkins said. "God helped me and had people in my life to take care of me at that moment, and He still is looking over me at this moment."
Hawkins, who has grown an inch and is 6-foot-6, weighed 238 pounds around the time of the first surgery. He said he is in the 215- to 220-pound range right now thanks to plenty of hard work and protein -- especially peanut butter and bologna. He hopes to get back to 240 pounds by the end of September.
Hawkins played in all 12 games last season, making seven solo tackles and nine total tackles. He had two sacks for 14 yards lost.
This season, Hawkins hopes to use his speed from the end to create even more havoc. EMCC assistant head coach/defensive coordinator William Jones said Hawkins has the potential to be an impact player. He said he had a solid spring and a good preseason to set the stage for this year.
"If he wouldn''t have had that surgery for his appendix, he would be right there (with former Columbus High standout Johnny Cockrell as most improved)," Jones said. "He is going to be a strong, strong contributor to what we''re doing.
"We didn''t know if we were going to have him, but he has bounced back strong with his conditioning and his workouts. He is gaining his weight back. It was a setback. We projected him to be 235 or 240 pounds. He is 225 pounds right now, but that''s part of it. He has a lot of talent. His best football is ahead of him. He will play well for us this year for us, but his best football is ahead of him."
Hawkins'' mix of size and speed is a deadly combination. Jones said Hawkins uses his long arms well and knows how to play with good extension and leverage. He said once Hawkins gets stronger and gets more size behind him he "could be an NFL guy if things fall into place for him over the next two or three years."
Jones said the Lions'' defense could be as talented as last season when the team went 11-1 and won its first state title. EMCC will have to shore up graduation losses across the board, but Jones likes the potential and talent on his side of the ball.
"Our defensive line is probably more talented but not as experienced," Jones said. "We return three guys at linebacker who played and we have some real young talent. Our secondary returns eight. We young on the back end last year and old and veteran and talented on the front end. This year, it is really, really talented on the front end with some experience on the back end. The linebackers are the ones I have to kind of coach up and get them playing right."
Hawkins said he gained plenty of experience last season and is eager to show what he learned. He said he has regrouped from the initial disappointment of being away from football so long and the shock of being so sick so quickly.
"I didn''t know it at the time, but the doctor told me when I woke up that it was life threatening," Hawkins said. "He said if I came in any later than I did probably wouldn''t have made it."
Fortunately, Hawkins is ready to show he can be a force up front. He plans to use his life threatening experience as motivation in everything he does.
"I really have a hunger for the game now," Hawkins said. "I realize now it is something I want to do. I love it with a passion. I am trying to get my bachelor''s degree and my master''s degree, and it really has motivated me to do my best.
I know I had a hard spring and a hard summer, but they just kept saying, ''Keep working hard. As soon as I got back I started to put my upper body weight back on. With that motivation and the help of the coaches, I am almost at 100 percent. All I have to do is to gain the rest of my weight."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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