Donald Hawkins

For senior offensive tackle Donald Hawkins, one word describes how this season is different from previous ones — confidence.

“Confidence [has clicked for me],” Hawkins said. “Everybody knows I could play ball, but they were just waiting to see my game elevate.”

The 6-foot-5-inch, 310-pound offensive lineman is a junior college transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College and officially enrolled at Texas in January 2012. But he was not always destined to be a Longhorn.

The Tunica, Miss. native committed to Oklahoma State University and became a Cowboy in August 2011. After an official visit to the 40 Acres and an unofficial visit to Auburn University, Hawkins changed his decision and became a Longhorn, citing the opportunity to play around great talent as his reason for decommitting from Oklahoma State and joining head coach Mack Brown’s squad.

Since then, Hawkins has started 14 games in a burnt orange uniform and has helped the offense reach marks it hasn’t in the past. The senior — majoring in education — has been a part of the two most productive offensive performances in Texas’ history, one being this season’s opener against New Mexico State where the Longhorns recorded 715 yards of total offense and the other being last season’s game against Ole Miss.

“I’m trying to move up every week,” Hawkins said. “So when you see me play like that [you’ll say], ‘Dang Donald Hawkins, he’s getting better. He elevated his game like he said he would.’”

Hawkins has done just that alongside senior offensive guard Trey Hopkins on the left side of the offensive front. Both men have learned to feed off each other as they both try and use the other to their advantage. In addition, both are competing for the best offensive lineman spot not only at Texas, but arguably in the Big 12.

“I think something’s gelling,” Hawkins said. “We got that chemistry together. When we’re rolling, we’re rolling. When Trey and I are next to each other, we roll.”

Hawkins, who aspires to be a coach once his playing career has come to an end, repeatedly used the phrase “proving himself,” specifically regarding the upcoming Red River Rivalry game, while he sat in front of reporters Monday afternoon.

Last season, he missed part of the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry game because of an ankle injury and had to watch Texas get embarrassed by the Sooners from the sideline for the last half of the game. 

“For me, it’s a revenge game,” Hawkins said. “Last year I got hurt in the first half and couldn’t play the second half of the game, so I feel like there’s a lot to prove. That is, there’s a lot to prove for myself as a player and as a team.”

David Ash looks downfield during Texas’ 63-21 loss to Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl last Saturday. Ash suffered a broken left wrist in the fourth quarter of the defeat but will still take the field when the Longhorns face Baylor at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

If you didn’t already know he was hurt before he spoke to reporters this week, you would have thought the wrapping on his left wrist was decorative.

The last time David Ash’s non-throwing wrist was seen without something covering it up, it looked like a black and blue golf ball was lodged under his palm. A source told The Daily Texan that the doctors who treated Ash believe his wrist is broken but could not find exactly where the break took place.

But, somehow, Ash was back on the practice field Sunday, taking snaps and throwing passes. The day after that, he spoke of playing Saturday against Baylor as if it was a foregone conclusion.

And that’s exactly what Texas needs right now.

After suffering the third worst loss in the 186 games that the Longhorns have played since Mack Brown took over as head coach in 1998, their injury list is a long one. Jordan Hicks has missed the last three games with a hip injury. Malcolm Brown has missed the last two with a hurt ankle. Jackson Jeffcoat is out for the rest of the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Donald Hawkins (ankle) and Brandon Moore (neck) were hurt against OU and may miss this week’s game as well.

“It definitely looks worse than it feels,” Ash said, shrugging off the injury. “When it hit in the game, I just kind of said, ‘Shoot, that kind of hurt.’ I was running off and looked down and went, ‘Oh, shoot.’ Everyone started freaking out. I threw a towel on it and I walked out.”

There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. You can’t play if you’re injured. But if any of those guys are hurt, they need to follow Ash’s example and get on the field Saturday.

“It shows a lot of toughness,” junior guard Trey Hopkins said. “We have a lot of guys banged up. Just the fact that he was out there with us [Sunday], shows how he’s continuing to be a leader on the team. I think that really shows how he’s stepped up as a person. That’s what we really need with so many guys banged up. We need everyone to know that you can still play through it.”

Without knowing the intricate details of his teammates’ injuries, here’s to hoping Ash playing through pain this weekend sets a precedent that can help turn this season around. Texas’ defense has sorely missed Hicks since he went down a month ago. Hawkins and Moore, both junior college transfers, have provided a valuable presence at the line of scrimmage. And, while freshman Johnathan Gray has impressed in his first few games as a Longhorn, Malcolm Brown is Texas’ best option at tailback.

“I try not to listen to the injury repot on Sunday after a loss because it’s long,” Mack Brown said. “Maybe it’s partly because we have a younger team. You may get banged up more when you’re younger than you do when you’re older. You also have more guys hurt after a loss than you do a win. They’re down. They’re tired. They’re frustrated and mad, so there’s more guys in the training room.”

Like Ash, the Longhorns need those guys on the field.

Printed on Thursday, October 18, 2012 as: Hurt Horns should follow Ash's lead

Dominic Espinosa, who started every game at center last year as a freshman, is one of four returning starters on the Longhorns offensive line, joining junior guard Mason Walters, sophomore offensive tackle Josh Cochran, and senior guard Trey Hopkins.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Junior college transfer Donald Hawkins has entered the offensive line brotherhood at Texas.

Being the only starter on the line who did not start last year, he had a lot of catching up to do. But with fellow starters Mason Walters, Trey Hopkins, Dominic Espinosa and Josh Cochran, he assimilated quickly.

“The offense was a little different to what he had done. He had to adjust to it, adjust to the coaching staff, adjust to our style of play,” Walters said. “The jump he made from spring ball to now is extremely encouraging that he is definitely going to be a force on the line.”

Hopkins says it took a little time for him and the other offensive linemen to get to know Hawkins. But now he is one of them. And with an animated leader like Walters, it couldn’t take very long for Hawkins to open up.

“At first he didn’t let us see all of himself and into his personality,” Hopkins said. “But now he’s really become a brother of the offensive line and he’s a great guy. He’s funny and he keeps us laughing.”

The brotherhood of offensive linemen, led by coach Stacy Searels, boasts versatility. Each players has the skills to play both tackle and guard, which could be beneficial in case of an injury.

Hopkins, who has played both right tackle and left guard, said understanding every position on the line is helpful if they want to play in the NFL. But it also helps with cohesiveness and chemistry among players.

“If I can know not only what I’m doing but what my center and my left tackle are doing, it makes me move better within that framework, not get tripped up with the guys, and not have any miscommunications,” Hopkins said.

Head coach Mack Brown said Hopkins, Walters and Espinosa are important team leaders. The three of them made it a goal to help the freshmen.

Bringing back so many returning starters has helped create a solid line and provides learning opportunities for the younger players. But in helping the younger players, Hopkins believes the veterans are learning themselves.

“It’s a great thing [having four starters return],” Hopkins said.

“Just because we’re able to help the young guys. In helping them, we’re able to re-instill what we already know and that gives us the confidence. I can say, ‘hey I know this,’ so I know it well enough that I can teach someone else.”

Walters agrees that the impact of bringing back returners will be extremely beneficial for the offense, especially with an offense that is so reliant on the run game.

“A lot of time you’re working double teams, techniques to get to people and if you’ve worked with a guy enough, little nuances that can sometimes thwart a play, you don’t have to worry about because you know you can adjust on the run with a guy that you have played with for a year,” Walters said.

Brown said the line is in a much better position than it was at this point last season. Last season, the line allowed 28 sacks. Running back Malcolm Brown has witnessed the growth of the line firsthand.

“The offensive line is great,” Malcolm Brown said. “As a whole, we weren’t all there last year. We had a new system and everyone was still learning. The offensive line looks really great.”

The linemen brotherhood has been spending more time together outside of practice and they have become closer as a unit. Their favorite thing to do together isn’t much of a surprise.

“We like to eat,” Walters said.