August 6th, 2014: Andrew Hawkins runs a flawless corner route, splitting three Cleveland Browns defenders in zone coverage. Wearing number 16, he hauls in the pass, presses his tippy-toes in bounds, bounces up with a slight smile and jogs back to the huddle.
August 6th, 2008: Andrew Hawkins holds a clipboard chalked full of notes on the Detroit Lions' sideline. His pen just ran out of ink. Wearing a Lions polo and hat, Hawkins is a training camp intern in the player personnel department. After practice, he walks to his cubicle to write a report on how the wide receivers looked in practice – wide receivers he knew he was better than.
Uncertainty. The word defined Andrew Hawkins' life for a chunk of time.
In 2008, the 5-foot-7 wide receiver was invited to participate in the Cleveland Browns rookie minicamp, a thrill for Hawkins. The stint for the Toledo graduate was short lived. The organization did not offer him a contract to remain with the team.
Hawkins, then 22, was scrambling. His chances of playing in the NFL were flickering. What would be next? How could he keep his dream alive?
After emailing the Lions a year earlier inquiring about any available internships, the organization, essentially out of the blue, wrote Hawkins back with a proposition: join our player personnel department as a training-camp intern. The pay will be low. The hours will be long. But as a former receiver from Toledo with knowledge of the sport, this could be your way of making it in professional football.
With no other options in hand, Hawkins packed up his belongings and moved to Michigan.
Hawkins would report directly to Sheldon White, the Lions' director of pro player personnel. White wanted Hawkins to write detailed reports on what he saw from Detroit's wide receivers – Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson headlined what could be described as an otherwise uninspiring group. Hawkins watched every practice, every walkthrough, and every interaction between the Lions receiver corps.
"I remember writing in my scouting report: it's only a matter of time before Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL," said Hawkins.
The Lions were blown away with Hawkins' truthful stances and his attention to detail. In meetings, he wasn't afraid to go against the grain and respectfully lay out his opinion on the roster. More than other scouts, Hawkins judged players by their character. Detroit was convinced Hawkins had an eye for talent. They were sold he could find diamonds in the rough at the receiver position.
White and his staff were eager to bring on Hawkins on for the entire season. As training camp was winding down, Detroit offered him an extended internship, all but guaranteeing Hawkins a permanent position after the 2008 campaign. But there was one stipulation: the Lions didn't want Hawkins to pursue any other football tryouts. They needed his full attention on scouting.
It was one of those moments in life where an angel and the devil appear standing on each side of your shoulder. Hawkins' head told him that this would be the best way to start providing stability for his family. But his heart roared with more passion.
"I felt like watching the Lions receivers as close as I was, I felt like I was good enough to play in the National Football League," Hawkins said.
Hawkins shook hands with White and the rest of the Lions staff, thanked them for the job offer, but told them his dream was still alive.
As the 2008 NFL season began, Hawkins headed back to college football. Toledo hired their alum as an assistant coach working with wide receivers.
Coaching wasn't the hopeful wide receiver's big break. Watching the ESPN show Pardon The Interruption was. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debated the silliness of Michael Irvin's new reality TV show, a wide receiver competition that would guarantee the winner a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys.
"Man, you should call about it," said Hawkins' roommates, teasing their friend. "'I'm like, Yeah right.' Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should at least see what it was about. I called the production company."
The next morning Hawkins overnighted 30 highlight tapes to the show's producers and was eventually flown out to California to participate in a combine. Hawkins was chosen as a participant and finished second on the show to his close friend Jesse Holley. Doors looked like they were opening.
The struggle continued, though. Two years in the CFL opened the Rams eyes to Hawkins, but St. Louis cut him one day after the receiver made the long road trip to training camp.
"That was the worst," said Hawkins. "The worst."
Hawkins finally did latch on with the Bengals, notching 86 catches and 995-yards in three seasons. He crafted a niche role in Jay Gruden's offense as a deep threat and a decoy. Last March, Hawkins signed a four-year deal with the Browns and is expected to play a major role in the aerial attack.
This Saturday, Hawkins returns to Detroit. This time he won't be holding any clipboards. Every now and then, Hawkins will receive a text from former co-workers with the Lions. White thinks if Hawkins had accepted the Lions' offer, he'd be pretty high up in Detroit's front office.
"He was an intellect and very serious about being the best," said White. "He's someone who maxes out his abilities in everything."
"They told me I'm definitely the first intern they've ever had to go play in the NFL," Hawkins said, with a big grin.