From his studded red cleats to his play on the field, Isaiah Hawkins has a penchant for standing out.
Hawkins burst onto the scene last season for St. Ambrose, earning player of the week honors from the Mid-States Football Association after an opening-week performance that included touchdown runs of 80 and 65 yards en route to a 174-yard debut to his sophomore campaign.
"It felt like it was well-earned," Hawkins said. "When I started getting reps, I knew my time would come as long as I was patient. When we went out to Dakota State, I was like, 'I’m going to get the ball, I’m going to score, right before the play happened.' When the play happened, it was kind of surreal, it was really nice."
Though he never quite duplicated that production the rest of the season, Hawkins still enjoyed a strong first year on varsity. He compiled 487 rushing yards — averaging 5.1 yards per carry — and six touchdowns.
This year, Hawkins is looking to open some eyes again. It will just happen at a different position.
Looking to get one of their more explosive players the football in space, St. Ambrose plans to move Hawkins from running back to slot receiver, a position the junior from Carol Stream, Illinois has little experience playing.
"I thought we could get him on the field more," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "It’s a compliment to Isaiah that he does have that big play, game-breaking ability to where we felt we could get him on the field a little more at receiver, at slot, throw bubbles to him and give him the ball on end-arounds."
Hawkins is enjoying the move, now part of a receiving corps Magistrelli thinks has the potential to be the deepest and perhaps most talented he's had in his time at the helm.
"Last year, me and the coaches used to joke about going to receiver because I knew I could play it," Hawkins said. "It’s going to open up a lot more things. Having that many weapons on the field at one time is going to open up a lot of big plays this year."
The transition has been a fairly smooth one.
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Hawkins had 12 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown last season and is quickly picking up the finer points of receiving during the Fighting Bees' fall camp.
He admits there are a few things he needs to work on, but welcomes the challenge — and opportunity — the move presents.
"I think (I have to work on) the conditioning aspect because receivers do run a lot more and then blocking in open space too, that’s another difficulty I have," he said. "A running back has to rely heavily on patience and the holes opening up and they have to rely on others. A receiver has to rely on the quarterback being able to deliver the ball and beating the man in front of you, and I know I can, most of the time, beat the man in front of me so that’s a good edge that I have."
Hawkins' move does take away a weapon from a Bees' backfield that was dealt a big blow when senior Jake Osterberger suffered an injury just before fall camp that will force last year's leading rusher to miss some time.
Though there is some temptation to move Hawkins back to his first position, Magistrelli feels confident Garret Tiarks and Brandon Baalman can carry the load. That's not to say there won't be some play calls and formations that still have Hawkins contributing to the running game.
"That was the first discussion as a staff, do we move him back right away?" Magistrelli said. "We discussed it both ways and I felt like, if we feel like we have to, we can always do that down the road but I really wanted to give Garret and Brandon a chance. ... They've both done really well and I anticipate leaving Isaiah at receiver."
Hawkins isn't ready to temper any expectations with the move. He has his sights set on another breakout season, starting Aug. 31 when the Bees host Trinity Bible College.
"I want to start with all-conference and then an All-American season because this is my junior year," Hawkins said. "I expect it to be better than last year because I wasn’t as consistent last year as I know I’m going to be this year at this position.
"For the most part, I think I like being a receiver more than running the ball."