When Weber State's coaches moved defensive tackle William Hawes to tight end last week, it didn't faze Hawes in the least. On an anxiety scale of 1-10, it rated, oh, a 2. They called him in and explained that a couple of injuries had made it necessary for him to switch positions, to which Hawes replied, "Fine." That was doable. And, by the way, what was the important thing they wanted to talk to him about?
Changing directions isn't something Hawes shies away from. Change may not be the best of life, but it's at least a natural part.His life, anyway.
That Hawes is changing positions is only part of the story. This is a guy who is 30 years old and still playing college football. At an age when most people are buying their second house, he's still in class. Entering freshmen look at him as if he were Cro-Magnon Man. When he tells them he was playing football when they were still in diapers, he's not lying.
That being the case, Hawes is the team's resident expert on real life. He's been around the block so many times he's due in for a rotation and balance. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles - which tends to make anyone grow up fast. He spent four and a half years in the Army and five and a half years working as a disc jockey and bouncer in L.A. nightclubs. He worked post-event parties after the American Music Awards and the Soul Train Music Awards. He DJ-ed the wedding of Marlon Brando's son, held at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. He's been to Virginia, Kansas, Alaska, Korea, Germany, Japan and Honduras.
The man may be 30, but he's lived a lot more years than that.
Moving from Southern California to Ogden to play football, then, was just another trip for Hawes. He figures there's no business like the goal-setting business. Backing down from a challenge isn't something he does. He was working the DJ booth one night when the son of a mob boss wanted him to play a favorite song. The problem was, Hawes' working orders were to play only songs on the hit list. As it turned out, he nearly showed up on one himself. When the "muscle" showed up to make a point, he had to clear the club and summon extra security before the fighting got seriously nasty.
In the Army, he drove a truck filled with volatile jet fuel through the streets of a Korean city - while rioting was going on. It prepared him well. When he was back home during the Rodney King riots in South Central, he guarded his home with a rifle.
"If I shoot," he says, "I'm not going to miss."
Not surprisingly, there isn't much that scares him on a football field.
When he decided to go back to college at age 27, it brought a predictable reaction. He had been a decade out of school and was making decent money, so friends assumed he had a career. Why go to college? More specifically, why play football in college? This was a 5 o'clock-stubble, all-grown-up man. What was he doing THERE?
The answer was, he wanted a college degree. The best way to get to college was to get a scholarship, and the the best way to get a scholarship was to play football.
He first left his job to play at West L.A. junior college. After two years, he moved to the University of Missouri, where he participated in the 1997 spring camp. But he didn't like Mizzou, so he left. When Weber assistant Gerald Bradley, who had been an assistant at West L.A., heard Hawes was available, he called up and asked if he wanted to make one more move.
To which Hawes replied the same as always: "Fine."
Now there's a 30-year-old man (31 in November) playing alongside 18-year-old freshmen in Ogden. They all do the same things, except that he gets treatment after practices and the teenagers rush out to make their next date. Still, nobody calls him "Gramps," or even "Sarge." There's too much respect for that. They like having a father figure who can actually line up with them on the field.
"The big thing for me is to give them a feel for setting goals and show them you never want to give up your dreams and it's never too late to pursue them," he says.
So when the Wildcats face Idaho State this week, it might be an intimidating experience for the freshmen, but not Hawes. Hostile crowd? Unfamiliar surroundings? Big defensive linemen? No big deal. He's used to facing tougher crowds just going to work.