Small College Sports

Nathan Hawkins discovers hidden talent, sets Simpson football records

Former Solon prep is special teams weapon for Storm

Simpson punter Nathan Hawkins of Solon is among the best in the American Rivers Conference. (Simpson Sports Information)
Simpson punter Nathan Hawkins of Solon is among the best in the American Rivers Conference. (Simpson Sports Information)

INDIANOLA — Nathan Hawkins has carved a niche for himself within Simpson football.

The Storm senior and former Solon prep transitioned from wide receiver to one of the American Rivers Conference’s top punters and he’s maintained that status despite missing a year and returning from an anterior cruciate ligament tear.

Hawkins has also excelled in the classroom, earning conference all-academic honors twice.

“He’s one of many kids doing that here,” Simpson Coach Matt Jeter said. “These guys are students first and athletes second. He’s a guy that epitomizes what we’re trying to do here.”

Hawkins has produced a successful career at Simpson and has contributed to its 3-0 conference start and 4-1 overall mark this season. The Storm will play for sole possession of first place Saturday, travelling to Pella to face unbeaten Central (6-0, 4-0).

“This season has been kind of a bounceback year for me,” Hawkins said. “It’s been fun, though. I love the guys and the team. It has been a great experience, being on this team with these guys. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

Interestingly, Hawkins’ biggest impact came at a position that he didn’t play at the varsity level for the Spartans. He led the Spartans in receiving as a senior in 2013, catching 24 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns.

During his sophomore season, Hawkins was passing time before practice and kicking to returners when he was approached by a former assistant coach who asked if he could punt. He capitalized on the opportunity.

“Punting was the last thing on my mind when I came to Simpson College,” said Hawkins, whose 70-yard punt against Nebraska Wesleyan in 2016 is the second-longest all-time at Simpson. “It’s worked out and I’m glad it has worked out like this.”

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Hawkins has etched his name in the Simpson record books. He currently holds three records, setting yards per punt in a single season (46.8), yards per punt in a game (52.7) and punting yards in a game (441). All were set during his junior year in 2016, when he was named honorable mention all-Iowa Conference and earned national and league player of the week recognition.

“Nathan’s a very smart kid, outstanding young man,” Solon Coach Kevin Miller said. “He played wide receiver and defensive back for us.”

Hawkins is third in the A-R-C, averaging 40.3 yards per punt on 28 attempts. He is an important attribute for the Storm.

“He does a phenomenal job for us,” Jeter said. “He’s not a secret weapon anymore because everyone knows about him, but he provides a weapon for field position for our team.”

Hawkins has played receiver as well and he was in that position when he lost last season. In the first game, he was running a route and peeled off to block a safety attempting to tackle his teammate on an under route.

He planted and his knee gave out, suffering the non-contact injury that required surgery. Hawkins had to have an additional scope at the end of the summer.

“Right now, I’m feeling pretty good,” Hawkins said. “I’m getting to run around and play some receiver, too. It’s been good.”

Jeter said he believes Hawkins could have graduated in May, but he was determined to return for one final season. Jeter had to pull the reins in on Hawkins, making sure he remained patient and didn’t come back too quick.

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“He showed a lot of grit and toughness in getting back,” Jeter said. “That’s how he is in school, the football field and our community service projects. He’s that all-around type of guy.”

Hawkins has the brain to go with the brawn it takes to play football, interning as a software engineer at Principal Financial during the summer.

Hawkins has a double major in Computer Science and Computer Information Systems with a Mathematics minor, boasting a 3.90 grade-point average.

“Back in middle school, I was messing around with a video game back then and started doing some custom stuff with that,” Hawkins said. “When I got to college, I found other people that did similar things and they were taking computer science classes. I was like, ‘I might as well try it out’ and have loved it ever since then.”

Football is important to Hawkins, but isn’t his top priority. He takes his role as a student seriously and is carving his niche in academia as well.

“I figure that is what I’m here to do,” Hawkins said. “That is what I’m paying money to do. I want to get out of college with a good degree, a good education. I guess, that’s what I should be doing right now.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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