Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2019

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Hawkins constantly proved doubters wrong


Among Frank Hawkins' lofty football accomplishments, winning the Super Bowl and being voted into the College Football Hall of Fame are the greatest.

Those feats are a credit to the fortitude of the 1977 Western High graduate, who didn't let his moderate size destroy his dream of playing college and pro ball.

Hawkins succeeded in both realms, setting NCAA rushing records at Nevada-Reno from 1977-80, then moving to fullback for the Oakland/L.A. Raiders for six-plus years and helping them win the 1984 Super Bowl. He remains the 10th-leading rusher in NCAA Division I history.

But despite Hawkins' impressive resume, he is just as excited over his latest entry -- his induction to the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, which takes place Friday night at Cox Pavilion.

It's one thing to visit a safety deposit box and admire your Super Bowl ring. But being lauded in your hometown is pretty sweet, too.

"Being inducted at home is very special, especially since I didn't go to UNLV," said Hawkins, 41, a Las Vegas city councilman from 1991-95 and director of operations for the NAACP Community Development Center in Las Vegas.

"So many people helped me over the years, people who were positive role models," he said. "I learned from all of them, and this induction is a tribute to them. My mother (Daisy Miller) set a good example. She taught me about hard work and commitment. She taught me to always give my best."

That background left Hawkins well-equipped to succeed in sports, though he stood only 5-foot-9, 160 pounds in high school. His rushing skills led Western to two state titles, and he also was a two-time state wrestling champ, compiling a 66-1 mark at 148 and 156 pounds.

"I won my last 66 matches," he recalled. "After I lost the first one, I was on a mission."

Hawkins took that same ferocity to Nevada-Reno after being recruited by coach Chris Ault, a former UNLV assistant under Ron Meyer. Ault had seen Hawkins dominate at Western and believed he could be equally successful at UNR.

"A lot of recruiters didn't think Frank was big enough," said Ault, who coached UNR from 1976-95 and is now athletic director. "But I saw a guy with a lot of courage. When I came to Reno, he was the first Nevada player on my list. It didn't matter if he was 100 pounds."

But even Ault couldn't have imagined how successful Hawkins would be at UNR. He became a three-time first team All-American in NCAA Division I-AA, which was created in 1978, just in time for Hawkins to write his name all over the record book.

As a sophomore, he ran for 1,445 yards and scored 17 touchdowns to lead I-AA scorers with 102 points. As a junior, he led I-AA with 1,683 rushing yards and 1,806 total yards, then repeated as the rushing king in 1980 with 1,719 yards.

By gaining 265 yards (with a pulled hamstring) in his final game against Idaho, Hawkins finished with 5,333 in his 43-game career -- the most by a I-AA player and third-most in Division I history. Only Pitt's Tony Dorsett (6,082) and Southern Cal's Charles White (5,598) were ahead of him.

Twenty seasons later, Hawkins' total has fallen to fifth on the I-AA list and 10th on the overall Division I list, but he still shares I-AA records with 29 100-yard games in his career and 11 in a season.

Hawkins' UNR career was recognized with the sport's highest honor in August 1997 when he was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

Despite his college exploits, Hawkins had to prove his mettle all over again in the NFL. After predraft nibbles from the Cowboys and Seahawks, he had to wait for Oakland to pick him in the 10th round in 1981.

"We were all bitterly disappointed he went in the 10th round," Ault said. "But Frank is the kind of guy to whom you don't say, 'You can't do this.' Because as soon as he gets his opportunity, stand back."

Hawkins quickly made himself indispensible, becoming a blocking fullback for Marcus Allen, though he still weighed only 225. He ran the ball sparingly, but started 85 straight games in the Raiders' backfield.

"I proved that it's not the size of the person that matters, but the fight within the person," Hawkins said. "(Owner) Al Davis wanted me to punish people and make holes for Marcus to run through. It was a sacrifice on my part, but I did it for the good of the team."

But Hawkins also had good days running the ball. He compiled 1,659 career rushing yards -- almost one-third of them in his best year, 1983, when he gained 526 on 110 carries, with six rushing TDs. That included 118 yards against the Cowboys and 64 against the Redskins.

Hawkins rose to the moment in the playoffs en route to Super Bowl XVIII, scoring one TD against the Steelers in the AFC semifinals and two against Seattle in the AFC championship.

Then came the Super Bowl on Jan. 22, 1984, in which the Raiders routed the Redskins 38-9 at Tampa Stadium. Hawkins carried three times for six yards, but cleared the way for Allen to gain 191 on 20 carries, score twice and earn MVP honors.

Nowadays, Hawkins wears his Super Bowl ring only on special occasions -- such as hall of fame inductions.

"The first year I wore it all the time," he said. "But then I began to appreciate it more and more, and I didn't want to lose a stone or lose the ring. It means that much to me."