By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Three seasons ago, Brandon Hawkins Jr. was working as a cornerback for the Waxahachie Indians on the gridiron.
BJ, as he is more commonly referred to, then starred as a wide receiver during his junior campaign in 2019. He is now taking snaps from behind center for the 6A playoff-bound Indians — and flourishing in a big way.
The Indians (5-4) are winners of four consecutive games for the first time since 2016 and are back in the postseason for just the fourth time since 2010.
Hawkins’ transition to quarterback began rather inconspicuously. Truthfully, it was the result of circumstance.
With then-juniors Campbell Sullivan and DJ Hollywood and then-sophomore Casey Kelly all on the baseball field for the Indians, the coaches approached Hawkins about filling in during the 2018 slate of spring practices.
“I just thought that I might as well have fun with it,” he recalled. “I knew it would probably help me in the long run.”
The test run against his own defense also helped Hawkins become a better wide receiver, as he had now experienced both ends of a passing completion at the varsity level.
The learned experience led Hawkins to record 1,129 yards (12.4 YPC) and 14 touchdowns on 91 receptions last fall.
The yardage total accounted for 48.4% of all Waxahachie receiving yards, while his 14 touchdowns were four more than the rest of the Indian receiving corps combined.
He was named to the District 7-6A first-team and the KBEC Sports Big School Player of the Year.
His production against some of the top defensive talent in Texas was downright impressive. It also landed him on the radar as a true WR1, meaning he’d be double-covered (or tripled) a lot more in 2020.
And that exact scenario played out in the Indians’ first five games.
QUITE THE AUDIBLE
Outside of senior running back Shawn Cherry exploding for 196 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win, 34-7, against Copperas Cove, the Tribe’s offense quickly became stagnant.
Waxahachie was outscored 141-23 and gained over 200 yards of total just once — in a 19-7 loss against Arlington Lamar — over its next four games. Granted, the other three games came against 5A DII No. 1 (8-0) Ennis, No. 11 (7-1) DeSoto and No. 8 (7-1) Cedar Hill.
All the while, Hawkins led the Indians with just 17 catches for 234 yards and one touchdown, a far cry from his all-everything showcase as a junior. The Indians’ offense needed for the wide receiver, who is arguably the top playmaker on the field for either team each week, to have the football in his hands — often.
Because of his previous spring experience, Hawkins entered the season as the Indians’ defacto third-string quarterback behind senior Casey Kelly and sophomore Roderick Hartsfield. The latter took over as the full-time starter ahead of the Cedar Hill game on Friday, Oct. 31.
Hartsfield then suffered a lower-leg injury and found himself in a walking boot on the sideline. With the offense needing a spark, offensive coordinator Justin Lozano and third-year head coach Todd Alexander turned to QB3 to provide it.
“We came up here Saturday morning [after Cedar Hill] and had a team meeting,” Hawkins explained. “Coach Lozano told me that we had to get the ball into my hands, so he just asked me, ‘Do you want to play quarterback and help out the team?’ I knew I had quarterback experience and there wasn’t really anything to it.”
“Now, I’m lit every play,” laughed the quarterback, who will still lead the Indians in receiving when they take the field for Friday’s playoff game.
Hawkins quickly made his mark as a quarterback, scoring his first rushing touchdown and adding 170 rushing yards in a 31-21 road win against Mansfield Lake Ridge.
“I wasn’t nervous,” assured Hawkins of the first play from behind center. Before taking that initial snap, a quarterback keeper, he did take a moment to soak it all in. “I’m really the quarterback now,” he remembers thinking after breaking the huddle.
Hawkins followed that first performance by adding two more touchdowns and matching his 170 rushing yards in a 21-7 win against Mansfield to put the Indians into a position to claim their first-ever playoff spot.
Then came his signature game, thus far, at least.
Hawkins torched the Waco Midway defense for 214 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries.
To find the last time a Waxahachie quarterback rushed for over 200 yards, you’d probably have to start with Venique Benton during the Indians’ 12-1 season in 2009.
Hawkins’ effort, combined with Cherry’s 190 yards and a last-second Clyde Melick field goal, gave the Indians the 31-28 victory. It also put Waxahachie into the 6A playoffs for the first time in program history.
The Hawkins-and-Cherry duo and the Indians’ stellar defense then delivered a 19-15 win in the Tribe’s regular-season finale against Waco High.
Hawkins is quick to praise the offensive line and downfield blocking by the Indians’ wide receivers for his and Cherry’s success in the rushing game. He also said Cherry is “a head hunter” coming out of the backfield.
“Me and Shawn, we are just back there having fun,” the quarterback said. “There will be times when I tell him that we can get the edge and he can seal it. We just communicate a lot.”
He added, “It’s fun to have the ball in my hands on every play. My teammates trust me with the ball in my hands, and I’m just out there playing football.”
ON THE TRANSITION AND FUTURE
When asked to identify the most challenging part of the transition from wide receiver to quarterback, Hawkins quickly pointed to reading the secondary on passing plays.
“I would definitely say it’s trying to make the reads when I’m throwing the ball,” he added. “I’m not a quarterback by nature, but I’ve started to adapt to it. I’m starting to be able to read the cornerbacks when they are in Cover 2 or whatever more quickly.”
Hawkins has completed 20-of-his-40 passes for 135 yards and four touchdowns to three interceptions. Two of those touchdowns have gone to Cherry (13-100), while senior Jaden Basham has 18 catches for 94 yards on the season.
“If I can see it, I’m going to try and make my reads. But, I’m just playing football out there,” Hawkins said. “I’ll always try and read it right, but I’m just going to play football. I’m going to trust my feet and still try and make the right read.”
And don’t think his play behind center has gone unnoticed at the collegiate level, either. If anything, the tape he is compiling at quarter having already played wide receiver, cornerback and return specialist, only further shows just his overall talent.
“Most schools love it,” Hawkins assured. “They see that I can change my position and help lead a team to the playoffs.”
He currently has a few Division-II and junior college offers, with a few Division-I programs beginning to make contact. University of Incarnate Word, Long Island University, Austin Peay State University and Notre Dame College have all expressed intense interest in Hawkins’ services — so far.
“I’m just trusting the process right now,” he added.
The Waxahachie Indians will debut the Class 6A Division II playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday against (9-1) Temple. The game will be held at Wildcat Stadium in Temple, as the higher seed in Class 6A is afforded the honor of hosting the bi-district round. The game will be streamed on the NFHS Network and live on KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM.
The Wildcats’ offense flows through quarterback Humberto Arizmendi. He has completed 96-of-his-163 passes for 1,410 yards and 20 touchdowns to 5 interceptions.
It’s the kind of offense that will have Waxahachie defensive backs Xavien Thompson (4 INTs) and Preston Hodge (3 INTs) licking their chops.
The only common opponent between Waxahachie and Temple is Copperas Cove, who Temple defeated 55-21 during district play.
“We just need to execute,” Hawkins assured. “We need our leaders to step up and lead. We need our line to continue stepping up. We just need to execute and play football.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith