The Browns alum was joined by more than a dozen former teammates Tuesday to surprise students with gifts.
CLEVELAND — Andrew Hawkins retired from professional football earlier this year, but that won't stop the former Browns wide receiver from using his platform to make a positive impact.
Hawkins hosted the fourth-annual Andrew Hawkins' Christmas Takeover Tuesday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium, a longstanding tradition that gives back to those in need with the holidays fast approaching.
This time, Hawkins and more than a dozen Browns players — including Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon, Christian Kirksey, Duke Johnson Jr. and Randall Telfer — surprised 200 kids and teachers from Breakthrough Schools' EPrep & Village Prep Willard with a special holiday experience and gifts.
"It's awesome, just the opportunity to give back as Browns players and a former Browns player now," said Hawkins, who personally funds the event. "The Browns changed my life to be honest and the opportunity I've been given and the platform, even being set up financially to give back, I feel like that's why we do it. To be able to have been blessed, this is an opportunity to pay it forward, so I love it. This is my favorite thing all year."
The event was a surprise for the students, disguised as a pizza party to recognize their work this school year. Papa John's generously donated pizza for the holiday festivities. When it came time to unveil hundreds of bags filled with presents, Hawkins and company passed out the gifts and helped share in the excitement of the afternoon.
"First off I want to shout out Andrew Hawkins for continuing to give back to the community, a tremendous player, I learned a lot from him when I was playing with him. So just being here for one of my former teammates, my brother, definitely has my full support," Kirksey said.
"Sometimes people don't have enough money to give gifts or support their households, so when you have a big group of guys that play football and in the light in Cleveland and to give their time and give back to this community, that's what I'm all about."
Hawkins was encouraged to see former teammates such as Kirksey, Thomas, Johnson, Gordon and other new Browns players show their support. Also in attendance were Telfer, Carl Nassib, Charley Hughlett, James Burgess Jr., Deon King, Marcus Martin and B.J. Bello.
"They're all out here wanting to give back on their off day. There are players here that I wasn't even teammates with but they want to show up and try to make this a great Christmas for the kids and that's what makes this organization special," Hawkins said.
"Even though I'm a former player, I'll always be tied to it and hopefully I'll always be involved in situations like this where we can help make the community and a world a better place."
The event at FirstEnergy Stadium is the latest in the Browns' "10 Days of Giving" volunteering campaign to make an impact in Northeast Ohio, bring awareness to local community partners and to share stories of generosity to inspire Browns fans to give back to others during the holidays.
Last year, Hawkins surprised kids and teachers from Cleveland College Preparatory School in Cleveland during his third annual Christmas event, joined by teammates, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams and CPD officers. In 2015, the event benefited 150 deserving youth from all 17 wards through Cleveland Recreation Centers. He also made a special holiday delivery at the Cleveland Christian home and provided other contributions to charities in the Midwest.
In 2014, Hawkins and Browns alumnus WR Miles Austin personally made donations to fund a holiday takeover at Walton Investment School, where they provided students with educational gifts and a check to purchase a new computer lab.
Browns staff members will also #give10 through First and Ten as they shop for and wrap gifts, as well as volunteer throughout the winter festivities at FirstEnergy Stadium. Arby's, a Browns partner, will also donate food for the event.