offensive lineman

Few people are good enough and devoted enough to become consensus All-Americans while pursuing a petroleum engineering degree.

Doug Dawson, a former Texas offensive lineman, managed to succeed in both.

Dawson, an academic and consensus All-American who played from 1980–1983, became a starter by sophomore year. But managing his full-time studies and full-time football career wasn’t easy.

“It means you have no life,” Dawson said. “The old college experience, you know, ‘Hey we’ll meet you out on one of the lakes,’ or ‘We’ll meet you out at Barton Creek’ — that was not my college experience. My college experience was studying and playing football.”

But the sacrifices Dawson made on the 40 Acres paid off. His accomplishments across the board at Texas caught the eye of teammates and general managers alike.

“Doug excelled at the fundamentals,” said Vance Bedford, current Texas defensive coordinator and a collegiate teammate of Dawson’s for two years. “He did the little things extremely well. The work ethic; you couldn’t say enough good things about Doug.”

The St. Louis Cardinals, currently known as the Rams, took Dawson in the second round of the 1984 NFL Draft. Dawson played in eight seasons in the NFL. But what set Dawson apart from other NFL players is the way he prepared for his career after football.

Always wanting to stay a step ahead of the curve, Dawson began thinking about life after football as soon as he joined the NFL. After his rookie season, he passed the test to become a licensed stockbroker. Not long after that, he signed on with Northwestern Mutual and found himself balancing two careers at once.

“I had a couple of injuries about halfway through my career that kept me out of a couple of seasons during that 11-year span,” Dawson said. “That is when I decided to become a financial adviser.”

In the final season of his career, Dawson started as offensive lineman for a playoff-bound Cleveland Browns, which Bill Belichick coached. But he soon found out he was making more money working in his new job in his spare time.

When the 1994 season ended with a second-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dawson, then-33, decided to retire from football and become a full-time financial adviser.

“I kind of hit the ground running,” Dawson said. “When they start offering you less to play pro football than you make in your regular business … you start thinking it’s time to grow up and get a big-boy job.”

Although the careers are on opposite spectrums, Dawson finds many similarities between his former and current career — they have the same basic principles. 

“As an offensive lineman, my job was to serve my quarterback and to block, and it’s a role where you’re not in the limelight,” Dawson said. “The more you learn to serve other peoples’ needs, the more successful you’ll become. In business and in work, you have got to serve other people’s needs to be successful.”

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.”

Whitewright High’s Tyrone Swoopes, a 6-foot-5 dual threat quarterback, is just one piece of the Longhorns’ 2013 recruiting class. Swoopes has enrolled early this spring to join the team.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

The end of the year was marred by decommitments and missed opportunities for the Longhorns’ 2013 recruiting class, despite strong showings by UT commits at end-of-the-year All-America games.

The class of 2013 now has only 13 members. Arlington Martin running back Kyle Hicks switched his commitment to TCU, and Belton tight end Durham Smythe decommitted from Texas to entertain other offers.

Although decommitments are an expected part of the recruiting process for any school, Texas has yet to fill the spots vacated by Smythe and Hicks.

Katy Seven Lakes offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch, Auburn athlete Cameron Echols-Luper and East Mississippi Community College defensive end Za’Darius Smith all recently spurned the Longhorns. Benenoch, who was once thought to favor UT, committed to UCLA Dec. 10. Marshall was offered a scholarship but committed to Auburn on Monday. Texas offered a scholarship to Echols-Luper on Thursday, but it wasn’t enough to prevent him from committing to TCU over the weekend. Smith visited Austin for the Dec. 7 Football Banquet (according to burntorangenation.com), only to commit to Kentucky Dec. 19.

Meanwhile, speculation continues that Arlington Heights defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson may also decommit. Robinson committed to Texas on Feb. 16, but has since made visits to Florida State, Southern California and Alabama. Robinson is rated as Texas’ best 2013 commitment by rivals.com.

Nonetheless, Robinson asserted his allegiance to Texas at the 2013 Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio Jan. 5.

Robinson was joined by five other 2013 Longhorn commitments in San Antonio: Whitewright quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Bastrop cornerback Antwuan Davis, Dallas Jesuit wide receiver Jake Oliver, Lake Highlands offensive tackle Kent Perkins and Celina athlete Jake Raulerson. Cypress Woods linebacker Deoundrei Davis was also selected for the game, but is still healing from an ACL tear. Swoopes, Raulerson and Deoundrei Davis have already enrolled.

Bastrop’s Davis made the biggest splash of any future Longhorn. Davis broke up what would have been a sure touchdown in the second quarter, and came off the edge to block a field goal in the same drive.

The other major high school all-star game, the Under Armour All-America Game, also had a representative from Texas. Harker Heights center Darius James missed most of his senior season with a broken foot, but showed off his versatility by playing a few snaps at offensive tackle. Even so, James may not have had even the best month in his own school.

Fellow Harker Heights Knight and Texas commit Naashon Hughes, who played out his senior season expecting a grayshirt, was rewarded by the Longhorns with a full scholarship in mid-December. The outside linebacker will now start classes this coming fall.

Who else will join him in the class of 2013, however, is unclear. While potential candidates include Waco offensive lineman Andrew Billings, Hutchinson Community College outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and Contra Costa Community College offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, to say that any of those players will sign with Texas on National Signing Day would be shortsighted.

To be more accurate, as National Signing Day looms and the Texas coaching staff scrambles for a handful of commitments, the only certainty in this class is how much remains uncertain.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

It was an upset on the cusp.

Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom had just blocked a field goal and left the Longhorns with a two-possession lead with only five minutes remaining against then No. 18 Texas Tech last Saturday. Now, all the offense had to do was wind down the clock for the Longhorns first win over a ranked team in 27 games.

And with a power rushing style rarely seen from the speed oriented Texas offense, the group delivered a five minute display of dominance on the ground.

“We were able to run the clock out on the road and we’re probably going to be asked to do that again,” offensive lineman Mason Walters said. “Knowing that we can do it is a good feeling.”

Walters went on to say that the Longhorns success on the final drive came on almost the exact same play every time, a run up the middle by freshman Johnathan Gray.

The freshman back took the closer’s role by pounding the Tech defense for six and seven yard gains to eat up clock. The offensive line was opening up holes in the right spots and Gray was waiting patiently to take what was available.

The runs up the middle were a bit different than the outside rushes Gray is usually asked to provide to utilize his breakaway speed, but he showed no hesitation to enter the land of giants in between the tackles.

“Whatever the role is given to him by the game plan, he’s taken as much advantage as possible,” Walters said. “He’s been called on a little bit more, and he’s stepped up and been doing a great job.”

However, for Texas, the winding down of the clock was a total team effort. Not just the result of a dominant performance by the offensive line and the backs. Actually, the players on offense credited the defense and the blocked field goal for fueling the final drive.

“We just got our energy from our last field goal block,” offensive lineman Trey Hopkins said. “That’s what really gave us life on the last drive.”

Hopkins went on to say that it was the first time all season in which the team had a total overall effort, with both sides of the ball working in succession to motivate and respond to the other.

“It was the offense and defense working together, finally having a total game,” Hopkins said. “It was just us feeding each other ... playing for each other like it’s supposed to be played.”

For much of the year it had been the offense leading the defense. But on Saturday it was the opposite. The defense pitched its best performance in conference play against the 12th-ranked offense in the country, limiting the Red Raiders to 22 points, 16 under their season average.

And it was the defenses’ outstanding play that almost forced the Texas offense to respond.

“We start to get that feeling of urgency, like, Hey our defense is laying it all out there; we’ve got to go lay it on the line,’” Walters said. “Being able to run the clock out is something to where we able to get our juice back and say ‘Hey we got you D.’”

The offense played well the entire game, except for a poor stretch in the third quarter, but the most encouraging moment was at the end of the game.

It’s an area the offense has come up huge the past three weeks. First, when they wound down the clock in the final minutes against Baylor. Then, on their game-winning drive in Lawrence, which allowed Texas to sneak out of Kansas with a victory. Most recently, the Longhorns’ showing in Lubbock; the team’s best overall fourth quarter presentation of the year.

It’s been three games, but Texas’ tough fourth quarter mentality is something it plans to build upon to help finish the season. 

Trey Hopkins (75) has worked to become versitile on the offensive line. He transferred from right tackle to left guard this season (Daily Texan file photo).

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Before a game, Trey Hopkins doesn’t dance around listening to music, pour over film or even ham it up with his teammates. Instead, Hopkins sits calmly next to his locker, jamming to the latest Pandora mix and centering himself for the upcoming battle in the trenches.

“The biggest thing is to just block out everything else,” Hopkins said. “I just need a little noise to block everything out and let me focus on my thoughts.”

Those thoughts are pretty deep, too. Hopkins, a junior studying to become an anesthesiologist, is widely considered to be one of the most intelligent players on the team. He was an Academic All-Big 12 first team selection in 2011 and graduated sixth of 947 students in his high school class.

This brain power transfers well to the field. Hopkins picks up schemes quickly and fully comprehends the technical aspects of the blocking assignments. That skill allowed Hopkins to transfer seamlessly to left guard this season after starting all 13 games last year at right tackle. He’s performing well enough that he earned best offensive lineman of the game honors for Saturday’s New Mexico contest, just a week after he pancaked six Wyoming Cowboys.

But Hopkins still thinks he has a ways to go to fully adjust to the position change.

“It’s a big change to me,” Hopkins said. “I bet there’s plenty of better players where it isn’t a big deal as it is to me, but it’s just different changing your technique and putting that other hand down. It’s especially different in pass protection with the drop back and the pull and lift.”

Hopkins may not give himself enough credit, though. Head coach Mack Brown has seen massive improvement from him, and Hopkins said himself that he feels more comfortable on the right side.

As a key cog of a quickly improving offensive line, Hopkins’ personality brings balance to a diverse group. He and fellow junior Mason Walters serve as the elder statesmen and the leaders of the O-line — yet their leadership styles could not be more different.

Walters is the ‘in-your-face’ guy. He’s loud, intense and emotional. Jump only two spots over to find Hopkins: a quiet, deep and forward-thinking influence. Both are needed, and Hopkins is happy to stay within himself to be that soothing force in the trenches.

“I’m the calming factor,” Hopkins said. “I let everyone know exactly what’s happening in this game — this is what we need to improve on. I’m not going to give you anything more than that. I’m not going to yell at you, not going to curse you out. I’m just going to let you know what’s going on to make you better.”

His place on the line isn’t lost on Walters, who respects Hopkins’ blend of smarts and athleticism.

“He is a great athlete for an offensive lineman,” Walters said. “But he also has great intelligence and he’s able to bring that out on the football team and it’s just another tool for us to use.”

His success isn’t all based on his thinking ability or his quick feet; he’s also a very goal-centric person who works diligently to improve. Not many players would be able to adjust to the rigors of multiple positions like he has, and his drive allows him to excel.

Hopkins’ weekly routine is a big assist in keeping him focused. Specifically, the goals he sets every Wednesday of the football season.

“On Wednesdays, I get out a piece of paper and write down my goals for the game: what I know, what I’m looking for, what I’m expecting,” Hopkins said. “I just fold it up, put it in my pocket and keep it with me from Wednesday to Saturday and read it about three times.”

The last time Hopkins examines that paper is the moment before he steps out of the tunnel to sprint onto the field. It’s a hectic time, but it’s an important part of his pregame ritual that keeps him centered before entering the slugfest.

It seems to work, too. When he hits the field, Hopkins transforms to an aggressive force. He’s no longer a 6-foot-4-inch, 301-pound, soft-spoken nice guy. Hopkins is now a force plowing through the man in front of him; like all linemen, he enjoys a good pancake.