Nov. 15, 2008
By Michael Jeremiah
Ryan Perkins, Jared Ballman and Charles Hawkins Jr. have each gone through their share of difficult times during their careers, but have fought throughout because of their love and dedication to football and the University of Washington.
Hawkins Jr. is a senior wide receiver that transferred to Washington in 2006 after spending two years at Graceland University in Iowa. A standout athlete that excelled in both basketball and football, Hawkins jumped at the opportunity to play for Coach Tyrone Willingham at Washington.
He was ecstatic about the opportunity to play in the Pac-10, but understood that the task of breaking into the rotation at wide receiver would be easier said than done. Already inexperienced with the playbook compared to other receivers that had been in the program for years, Hawkins suffered an early setback when coaches asked him to switch from the outside to learn the slot position.
Learning another position would be tough, but thanks to the example his father had set for him, he was ready for the challenge. Hawkins' father, Charles Hawkins Sr., had inspired his son to work through adversity by raising him in a single-parent home in Chicago.
Hawkins, originally a walk on to the squad, was paid off for all his hard work when he received a scholarship as a junior. This season, a scholarship was not guaranteed, but once fall camp got underway, he was once again rewarded with one.
Hawkins has also been paid off with a spot in the rotation at wide receiver. After learning two different receiver positions in the offense, he has been able to use his versatility to contribute. Receivers with college experience are at a premium this year, and Hawkins provides a steady veteran hand at that position for the Huskies. Hawkins has eight receptions for 75 yards on the year and is anxious to improve on those totals in the next three games to help the team succeed.
"It's a huge to deal [to play]," said Hawkins. "But at the same time, I feel like if we're not winning, [then] I'm not doing enough. So I always see what I can do more to step my game up."
The journey of Perkins is a little different from that of Hawkins, but the rewards have been similar. He came to Washington as a freshman in 2005 after a prolific kicking career at North Thurston High (Olympia, Wash.) in which he was named an All-American punter. Perkins was expected to compete for the placekicking or punting duties in 2006. His chances of securing the placekicking job looked good, as his strong legs (Perkins can kick and punt with both legs) had yielded a career-long field goal of 55 yards.
That plan was derailed during the 2006 Spring Game, when a teammate ran into Perkins on a punt. The hit resulted in a catastrophic knee injury that required reconstructive knee surgery. Perkins rehabilitated his knee so that he was able to return for the 2007 season, and that season went 15-for-20 on field goals and hit 45-of-46 PATs.
Perkins has handled most the field goal duties this year for the Huskies, connecting on five-of-seven attempts in 2008. But continued deterioration of his knee will force Perkins to medically retire at the end of the season with one year of eligibility remaining. Although his career has been altered by injury, Perkins knows that he has learned something from his tribulations.
"I learned that hard work pays off," said Perkins. "It's a character builder. I had to pay the price, but I got a free education out of it."
Perkins has shown that he's not ready to move on just yet though, as he connected on a career-high four field goals (34, 38, 21, 20) against Arizona State last week. Perkins hopes to continue on at Washington next year as a graduate student, studying in Washington's Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership program.
Ballman is another special teams contributor in his last season. He came to Washington to try to win all kicking positions, and has performed all punting, kickoff and field goal duties for the Huskies this year. He is the primary punter and kickoff specialist for the Huskies, and attempts the field goals that are 40 yards or longer.
"I'm just coming out of Washington a better person -- a stronger person mentally because I have the will power now to get over certain situations," said Ballman, who was appreciative for Coach Willingham's support through hard times. "Going through rough times and being a stonger person, that's helped me the most and that's what I've gotten out of Washington football."
After the season, Ballman hopes to train to compete at the professional level. Playing in the National Football League is his dream, and the next few months of preparation will be crucial to fulfilling that dream. His versatility and experience at all three of the kicking positions should help Ballman's chances to catch on in the professional ranks.
With hard times in the past, the three all expressed the importance that Saturday will have. It is their final time to walk down the tunnel as a player. It is their last time to play in front of the Husky faithful, and one of their last chances to leave another lasting memory of their career at Washington. There is no doubt, according to all three, that emotions will be running high as they play their final game at Husky Stadium.
"It will be tough, because it will be the last time that we will play there," said Hawkins. "I'll try my best not to think about it, because it would be too emotional, but you also want to take it in. It will make me think about all the other times that we have run out and all the games that we've had before."
"It's going to be pretty crazy," said Ballman. "I've played my last two years here and I've gotten really close with the team, so it's going to be pretty emotional. It's also about playing the last game at home with the team too."
The three all expressed that one of the main things that they will miss is their teammates. Whether it has been for the full four years or an abbreviated career of two years, they have all competed side by side on the gridiron.
According to Hawkins, the camaraderie that comes from competition is what inspires him to press on for the team. They fight all week together in practice, and on Saturdays have to protect each other and their home stadium against opponents. Although it has been hard this year, the fight, tenacity and dedication to past and present Husky players is what being a Husky means, and nothing can get in the way of preserving those qualities.
They aren't players who have grabbed a lot of headlines, but each has carved their own niche in the program. They each understand and appreciate the opportunity that has been afforded to them to play at a storied program like Washington. Each has fought through obstacles of varying difficulty as Huskies, and whether those obstacles stick with them as an injury, loss, or transition, they are proud to have taken part in the tradition of Husky football.
"I can say that being a Husky, going to school and playing sports here, has definitely improved who I am as a person," said Perkins, who walks with a noticeable limp 18 months after his knee injury. "I don't regret anything and I've loved my time here. I'm fortunate to have been a part of the program, not only on campus but a part of the athletic program. I love it and I hope everybody that gets the opportunity seizes it."