CEDAR RAPIDS — The wool jersey is framed and mounted on the basement wall.
A name attached to it reads, “Max Hawkins,” a member of University of Iowa’s famed “Ironmen” of the 1939 team that included legendary Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick.
The memento is part of a collection that also contains a gold helmet, newspaper clipping and a box of cleats from the Hawkeye guard’s playing days.
His namesake can’t help but feel a sense of pride and the occasional goosebumps, pondering his maternal great-grandfather’s career.
“Just thinking about all that stuff has been through,” said Cedar Rapids Kennedy senior quarterback and defensive back Max White, whose middle name is Hawkins. “Thinking what I’m going to do to make somebody else think that way about my stuff.”
White has carved his own niche in the sport, helping lead the Cougars to the Class 4A state semifinals last season. He is one of 10 starters and 17 letterwinners returning for Kennedy, which finished 10-2 a year ago.
“I’m extremely excited,” the 2019 all-state performer said. “Growing up as a kid, as a preschooler, I’ve always dreamed of being a high school football player on Friday nights, representing my city and being out there at Kingston Stadium.”
Varsity aspirations transformed into NCAA Division I potential, garnering attention from FBS and FCS programs. Even though his dad and brother played at the D-III level, White has his sights on reaching the highest level, like his ancestor. Hawkins was a two-year letterwinner (1939-40) for Iowa, serving the university after he graduated. Hawkins Drive, which runs between Kinnick Stadium and UIHC, is named after him.
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“The person that I share his name was on such a great team,” White said. “He got to block for Nile Kinnick, fought and served our country, sharing his name is an honor, really. Just thinking about the legacy my family has set for me and now I get to go out and write my own story.”
Football blood courses through his arteries. His father and Kennedy head coach, Brian White, played at Coe after a prep career under Linn-Mar Hall of Fame Coach Greg Purnell. Older brother, B.J., was a Cougar signal caller before continuing his career at Wartburg.
The younger White grew up around the Kennedy program, serving as a ball boy and idolizing former players like his brother, Shaun Beyer, Dalles Jacobus and Tyler Dralle. He watched from the sidelines when the Cougars advanced further than ever in 2015 and lined up under center for the program’s third semifinal appearance.
“He was always on the sideline and in the locker room,” Brian White said. “During our state championship game in 2015, he was right there.”
Max White made his varsity debut as a sophomore. His exposure to the system and his knowledge of their schemes made for a smooth transition from running back to quarterback, starting every game last season.
He was part of a strong multi-faceted rush attack, amassing 1,114 yards and 21 touchdowns. He threw for 751 yards and seven scores in a run-oriented offense that included explosive playmakers Cairron Hendred and Brandtley Koske.
“Max is a ‘football play,’” Kennedy offensive coordinator Kyle Knock said. “I honestly believe he could excel at many positions. He is very football smart and I trust him completely to run our offense. He has the green light from me to change the play at any time. He has earned that through the trust we have built with one another.
“He wants to throw first now and wants people to know he is a QB. But when things break down, he becomes scary for defenses.”
Max White could wreak havoc on the best of defenses, if he proves to be a consistent dual threat.
“He’s embraced the idea of throwing,” Brian White said. “He wants to throw and it wasn’t that he didn’t want to throw last year. The problem, which is a good problem to have, when you get 8 to 13 yards a run with Cairron, Koske and him. It’s hard to justify putting the ball in the air.
“It’s safer to run and we moved the ball up and down the field.”
The receiving corps is another justification for the Cougars to air things out a little more. Kennedy returns all-Metro wideout Jalen Cotton and a trio of 6-foot-4 targets in tight end Drake Kinney and receivers Isiaha Morgan and Mitchel Shares. Hayden Klett is expected to make an impact in the slot and track standout Brody Lovell will be another weapon.
“We have guys that we can put the ball in their hands,” Brian White said. “Max is confident in throwing the ball to them and them going to get it. They built a rapport over the summer. We’re going to put them in position to throw the ball.”
The Cougars offensive line is massive, anchored by one of the nation’s top recruits in all-stater Connor Colby. Jamison Bean, Gavin Bascom, Cam Kelso and center Giuseppe Gianforte round out a unit that goes 315, 290, 240, 270 and 220 pounds.
“We return four very experienced guys up front,” Brian White said. “They’re all good and they’re all big.”
Defense has been the program’s strength in recent years. Holes have been created by the graduation of Cade Parker, Jay Oostendorp, Nolan Jacobs and Koske. The key could be how players step in to those defensive positions.
“People don’t have any idea the kind of talent we have, filling those spots,” Max White said. “I’m so excited to get out there with those guys.
“This whole Covid business has gotten us closer. We’ve gone through the biggest pandemic ever as a team. We have an unbreakable bond, as usual, in the Kennedy football family. We have really talented guys coming in, so sky’s the limit.”
Cedar Rapids Kennedy, at a glance
Coach: Brian White (6th year, 43-21)
Last year: 10-2, Class 4A state semifinals
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Top returners: OL Gavin Bascom, LB Drew Bartles, OL Jamison Bean, OL/DL Connor Colby, WR Jalen Cotton, DL Ahvey Garrett, OL Giuseppe Gianforte, DB Brendan Groth, OL Cameron Kelso, TE Drake Kinney, DL Cael Knox, DB Brody Lovell, DB Divion Ocheltree, LB/TE Reid Pakkebier, K Liam Wahe, DB Jake VanderSanden, QB Max White.
Aug. 28 — at Cedar Rapids Prairie
Sept. 4 — Cedar Rapids Washington
Sept. 11 — Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Sept. 18 — at Dubuque Senior
Sept. 25 — at Dubuque Hempstead
Oct. 2 — Waterloo West
Oct. 9 — at Iowa City West
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