Interview with Michael Hawkins

Oklahoma's freshman defensive back talks about amazing journey and the obstacles he overcame to get where he is today

Michael Hawkins earned his first big moment at the University of Oklahoma against UTEP when he intercepted his first pass and returned it for his first touchdown as a Sooner. Sooner Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops says that play will be the first of many big plays for a player that Stoops says is special.

Big things are predicted for Hawkins and his natural ability is awesome. He is one of the best pure athletes on the Sooner squad and that in itself gives him a chance to be great at OU. However, there is something else that drives Hawkins that no other player on the Sooner team has within them.

Hawkins has gone through his young life already experiencing what it's like to be alone, homeless and facing the thought that his life is going to end. Hawkins knows firsthand what it feels like to feel that his life has no purpose, and that every day to be on a program that each new day is a gift from God.

His dad tried to keep him from playing sports and his mom died from AIDS. His dad beat him before Hawkins finally couldn't take it anymore and ran away to live in a park for six months. Finally, he was at wits-end and went to a friend's house for help. Thanks to some kind people Hawkins' life began to turn around. Soon after he went out for the Carrollton Turner football team and was an instant starter at cornerback, despite never playing the game before. It was evident by Hawkins senior year that he was D-1 material and at Oklahoma's summer football camp Hawkins feel in love with OU and the Sooners felt the same about him.

Hawkins' life continued on the upswing when he soon accepted a scholarship at one of the top football programs in the country. He moved to Norman the summer after his senior year and now is traveling as a freshman and playing as a backup cornerback for the second-ranked team in the country.

Life is looking up for Hawkins, but that wasn't always the case. In this question-and-answer session the 18-year old Hawkins talks about his unbelievable life and the fact that he is playing for the Oklahoma Sooners has given that life tremendous hope.

JH: Considering everything that has happened to you, does it seem surreal that you are actually playing at Oklahoma and having success?

MH: "I used to joke to my step mom a couple of years ago about me making it in art, but I never thought about football. I thought I could play because I used to play it outside in the street and I used to play basketball, so I knew that I was a good athlete. I never thought it would be like this or that something like this would happen to me."

JH: Your outstanding play in the UTEP game and this press conference means that you are going to be seen on televisions all across the state and heard on radio stations everywhere. Can you describe what that feels like for you?

MH: "From what has already been written and talked about me I have received letters from a bunch of people telling me that there last name is Hawkins, wanting to know if I am related to them or something. In the last couple of days I have had people walk up to me and ask me if I am kin to them. It is just amazing to me that when you do something special people want to be around you. I am not talking bad people, but good people and it just sweeps me off my feet when I consider what I've got. I just got to take a hold of it and not let it go away."

JH: You haven't played football that long, but good things seem to be happening for you. Is your athletic ceiling still way up there?

MH: "I came to OU to really learn how to play cornerback. In high school I played on pure raw talent, but when I meet Mike Stoops in high school he told me that he was going to polish my skills up. I mean, I came up here running a 40-yard dash time faster than most of the guys up here, so basically Coach Stoops just wants to polish up my skills. He wants to take me to that next level, and also to that next level of life, so that I don't have any worries."

JH: How much technique are you still learning everyday?

MH: "I am basically learning the little things, like coming out of my break harder and to go out on every play. I should never take a play off and there a lot of different things that I didn't learn in high school. My high school coaches told me about the little things, but I didn't always listen. I didn't think they were all that important at that time, but it turns out they are important. When I go home this weekend I am going to tell those guys to pay attention to those coaches. My football team is 2-0 right now and I am going to tell those guys that they have to go out everyday and bust it and they need to learn how starting right now. I tell all my friends on my former team at Carrollton who are playing football that I wish we had started earlier working on our skills. We should have been running gassers and lifting a lot more weights. Things would have been a lot easier on us if we had prepared ourselves in high school and then came to college."

JH: Your life has been anything but a relaxed life, and considering all that has happened to you the fact that you are here at OU is amazing. Who do you credit your survival?

MH: "I guess I basically credit it to God. I remember when I stayed in the park, the Martin Luther King Park in Dallas right by the Cotton Bowl where Oklahoma plays at. The stadium is two to three blocks from the park and I never thought I would be able to come back to my home town and play in the spotlight there at the Cotton Bowl. I just basically give all thanks to God. I also have to give credit to my grandmother, who instilled in me a lot of positive things when I was younger. She used to tell me certain things that I didn't understand at the time, because I was too young, but I paid attention and listened. When I got older I realized that a number of those things she was trying to tell me would come true or come into play. I have an older brother who is 23-years old and he has been through as many things that I have, but he calls me when he has problems. He will ask me how to do certain things or how to get through certain things."

JH: I am going to guess that when you stayed in the park that it wasn't the nicest area in town?

MH: "No, it really wasn't. There were times where I had to trust people I didn't even know. I met this guy who had to be in his late 30's, and he told me that he would watch my back while I sleep and then I would watch his while he sleeps. We had to take turns to make sure that nobody jumped us or didn't take whatever stuff that we had. I basically made 25 dollars stretch for six weeks, by buying chips, water and doing basic things just to live. There would be days that I wouldn't eat, but I always made sure I drank water and I could always find water."

JH: What happened to you to put you in that situation?

MH: "I was living with my father at the time. My mother was strung out on drugs and she was doing her own thing. My grandmother passed away so that put a lot of pressure on my mom to do things and she wasn't able to. I had to live with my dad and that wasn't working out because he was doing things that he shouldn't have been doing either. My mom was diagnosed with the HIV virus and was dying with AIDS. I wanted to go see her, but my dad wouldn't let me see her. So, on June 28th I just got tired of him telling me I couldn't go see her and I told him that I wanted to go see my mom and he told me that I was never going to see my mom again. I told him that I was and that I wanted to leave. He again told me that I wasn't and he starting beating me. I just got tired of getting hit and I left. My dad was the type of guy that if he said that he wanted a beer and I got up to get him a beer, but if went slow he would slap me. He would hit me over things where there wasn't really any cause and I tried to take it in stride, but there came a point where I just had to leave."

JH: Did you not have anybody else you could turn to?

MH: "I had nobody else. I had a big brother, but he couldn't do anything for me."

JH: Who did you eventually turn to?

MH: "It was one of the football families. It was one of my quarterbacks. The people that took me in at first were people that lived next door to us. They knew how things were, because they heard the nights where there was screaming and the place was being torn up because I was being thrown up against the wall or around the house. They heard those type of things. They always told me that if I ever needed help to just come and ask for it."

JH: This was right next to your dad's house? How long did you stay there?

MH: "Yes, that was in North Dallas. The name of the people that took me in were Eric Ganison and Trina Roberts. I lived with them for a year and they got me eligible to play football. Once I started playing football most people thought I was recruited to Turner, because they had been losing a lot. However, that wasn't the case. Eric and Trina lived in the Turner district and they basically just set it up for me to go out for the team there. After a year there they were moving out of the district and I wanted to stay there and play football, so the Alexander's took me in. They did everything right. They had five kids of their own, but they just treated me like I was one of them."

JH: Do you ever think where you might be if those families did not take you in?

MH: "I don't know. I really don't think I would be here right now. I have a lot of my friends who have been killed or who have died. I think I would have been right there with them. When I go to Dallas I used to live right down the street from the Cotton Bowl and I have four of five of my friends who were killed or died in car wrecks in the last two years. I had a friend who died in February, named Ronnie Dorsey, in a car wreck in that same area. If those families had not taken me in I would have probably got into drugs or something worse. I probably wouldn't be sitting here talking to you."

JH: How much did athletics help you get out of your bad situation?

MH: "Playing high school ball released a lot of pressure. When I would go to practice or have a good game I never had parents come up to me and tell me that I played a good game, or that they were proud of me. It was always other families or friends that would tell me and that always made me feel good."

JH: Did athletics give you hope for the future, that you did have something that you could hang your hat on?

MH: "I felt during the first couple of weeks of playing football that this could be my out. I had a feeling that I was beginning to get some things going my way. I still feel that way now, that I have a lot of things going for me, but at the same time I don't feel like I have anything, because I don't have any parents around and that is so hard. Many times I just sit around and cry, because I don't have any parents around and those types of things."

JH: Has your dad tried to make contact with you?

MH: "In high school I had a game where I intercepted three passes and he was there at that game, but I didn't talk to him. I just walked into the locker room and left."

JH: Would you talk to him if he came to an OU game and tried to talk to you after the game?

MH: "I don't think I would say anything to him. He has tried to contact me, I guess indirectly. One of the ladies that he cheated on my mom with, who eventually became my step mom, has a daughter that goes to school here. She looked me up when she found out I was coming here and the step mom and daughter came to my last three games. She is not with my dad any longer. To be honest, she is trying to be good to me and she is probably my mother figure right now."

JH: Since you have moved out of your house how much have you talked to your father?

MH: "I have only talked to my dad one time and I haven't really talked to anybody on my dad's side of the family. The only person I talked to on my mom's side is my brother."

JH: How difficult was it to turn to your friends for help?

MH: "It was hard, because it takes courage to turn to somebody for help when you are that young. You really don't know what to expect. I was scared I was going to get turned down."

JH: When you got to your senior year did you feel your life had a chance?

MH: "Yes, but not because of football. I was excited because I was going to get a high school diploma and I knew then that I could have something to fall back on and get a job somewhere."

JH: Did you have friends at the time?

MH: Yes, I had friends but I couldn't talk on the phone or I couldn't go outside, so I couldn't hang out with them. The coaches knew that I could play ball because they used to call my dad all the time asking him to let my play. That was during my freshman year and he wouldn't let me play. I don't understand why he wouldn't let me play. Some people say that my dad was a great athlete, but they feel he didn't want me to fall into the same bad luck as him. He was good enough to play college football, but he fell into drugs, not only using them, but selling them as well. I guess he saw that as a quick way to make money."

JH: Considering everything that has happened to you, can you describe what happens to your life when you have a great moment like you had Saturday when you returned that interception for a touchdown?

MH: "That was an amazing experience for me. Personally, I don't know if I can get the full enjoyment out of it. I feel if I had a mom or dad there that cared about me then I could get the full enjoyment out it. I get excited about it, but there just seems to be an empty feeling there as well. When I was getting letters from all the colleges, I never felt that it was that special. My friends would tell me how special it was, but to me it was just another step to getting some kind of life for myself. Everything just became a step toward another day of living I guess. I hated having nothing. I hated starving and many days I wake up and I am just glad I have something to eat. Receiving a college letter was nice, but I was just working on the basics most days of my life and just having a cooked dinner was a bigger deal to me."

JH: Considering your life today and they way it is here at OU, do you now feel some peace in your life?

MH: "Yes, I do, because I have a lot of support here at OU and my teammates support me. Coach Mike Stoops has been great with me and has become a father figure for me. I am not saying that I look at him as my father, but he is a great man who coaches me hard, but also cares about me as a person. Coach Stoops is always talking to me about life and asking me about my grades and how I am doing. It's interesting, because when I was homeless I had nothing. Like I told you I made 25 dollars stretch over six weeks. When I moved in with my first family and started playing football I also got a job. I was no longer searching for food. I got into a habit of keeping track of everything that I would get, almost to the point of that I would hoard it. I do the same thing here at OU. At OU I have clothes, three meals a day and I was able to work this summer and make a little money."

"I have OU travel clothes that I can wear and shoes that I can wear. Those things are very important for me because there have been times I didn't have anything like that. Man, I even have a cell phone right now. I carry it around like it is gold or something because a cell phone never even entered my mind three years ago. When it rings sometimes I don't even answer it, because I want to listen to the message that somebody left me. I went so long without hearing a friendly voice that sometimes I just like listening to their message before I call them back."

"Life is pretty good for me right now. I am never going to have my parents back, but I have God in my life and I have friends. That is better than I thought I was going to have when I was living in that park. I guess I have been blessed."

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