After The Field Goals: Former Wolfpack, Gopher PK Chris Hawthorne

  • Name: Chris Hawthorne
  • Age: 23
  • Organization: Leesville Road, NC State, Minnesota

Author: Chris Lehman, contributor.

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No one can accuse Bowling Green’s Falcon Club director of letting any life opportunities pass him by. Chris Hawthorne started a brand new sport as a senior in high school, followed it all the way through college and became part of NCAA history as part of the first group of student-athletes to vote on NCAA rules and policies at the NCAA Convention.

Hawthorne’s road to college athletics and NCAA history started in the spring of his junior year of high school when he was approached by a friend about becoming the place kicker for Leesville Road’s football team. As a 6’6” soccer player, Hawthorne certainly had the leg for it, and he decided to spend the fall of his senior year as part of both the football and men’s soccer teams.

Hawthorne helped the soccer team to a playoff appearance, but his real success came on the football field. As a senior, he started every game as the place kicker and punter for the Pride, going a perfect eight for eight on field goal attempts and 44 for 46 on extra points. Hawthorne also kicked off 72 times, booting 31 of them for touchbacks.

Hawthorne’s performance caught the attention of the coaching staff at NC State, and he was able to walk on to the Wolfpack football team for the 2010-11 season. As a freshman, Hawthorne saw action in four contests and was the primary place kicker against Wake Forest with Josh Czajkowski out due to injury. In his three appearances in the red and white, Hawthorne went five for five on PATs with a 25-yard field goal against the Demon Deacons. He also kicked off 17 times with one touchback.

“I was fortunate enough to go to two really good schools,” Hawthorne said. “I have memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life at both NC State and Minnesota.”

However, after his first semester with the Wolfpack, Hawthorne felt that NC State was too close to home for him.

“I was very blessed to be so close to some of my good friends from high school and my immediate family while I was at State,” said Hawthorne. “But I’ve always wanted to challenge myself in an environment that forces me to sink or swim, and I felt like NC State had too big of a safety net.”

One of the first schools that Hawthorne began discussions with was Minnesota, and he very quickly fell in love with the school and the city. For Hawthorne, the decision to transfer up to Minneapolis was a no-brainer.

“I had never been to Minnesota before, and I fell in love with it when it was four degrees and there were two feet of snow on the ground,” Hawthorne said. “I also loved the people there. They were the kind of people you can talk to for 10 minutes and feel like you knew for your entire life.”

Hawthorne spent three years attending the University of Minnesota, and he played for the Golden Gophers’ football team for three seasons. His experience at Minnesota was a special one, both academically and athletically.

“I will never forget my first class [at Minnesota], microeconomics, and there were 800 people in my section and 1300 in my course,” said Hawthorne. “I was in classes with professors that would challenge me and students that were some of the best and brightest at their high schools and in their states.”

The uniqueness of Hawthorne’s college experience wasn’t limited to the classroom. He also enjoys looking back on the interesting experiences he had on the football field.

“In one season at Minnesota, we played in both the hottest and the coldest football games in NCAA history,” Hawthorne said. “It was very unique to experience the polar opposites.”

While his football career is loaded with great experiences, two games stand out in Hawthorne’s mind.

“I will never forget walking into the Big House the two times that I played there,” said Hawthorne. “I grew up a Michigan fan, and I can remember running around on that field after a game with no one there fifteen years earlier. Now I was running around out there with 115,000 fans in the seats.”

Hawthorne ended his football career on Dec. 27, 2013, in the Texas Bowl. He hit a 41-yard field goal on his only attempt of the game, and the Golden Gophers fell to the Syracuse Orange by a score of 21-17. He finished his senior season 14 of 18 on field goal attempts, his most successful season with Minnesota. However, Hawthorne’s success continued off the field.

After graduation, Hawthorne spent eight months as a development associate for the Golden Gopher fund, which supports Minnesota’s student-athletes.

“My boss at Minnesota has been a great mentor and teacher for me, and I continue to keep in touch with him,” Hawthorne said. “He encouraged us to seek opportunities and feel comfortable networking with people.”

If there is any lesson that Hawthorne has taken to heart and made a part of himself, it is the lesson he learned from his first boss out of college, and it put him in position to be a part of NCAA history.

On January 15-18 of this year, the NCAA held its convention, and for the first time, student-athletes made up 15 of the 80 votes on autonomy legislation. Each of the five power conferences sent three representatives, and Chris Hawthorne went as a Big Ten representative.

“One of the roles I had as a student-athlete at Minnesota was a student-athlete advisory committee [SAC] representative for the Big Ten to the NCAA,” said Hawthorne. “For the last two years I have represented the Big Ten as part of SAC, and then I was elected by my peers in December to represent the Big Ten in the autonomy vote.”

In the new structure of the NCAA, the power five conferences include the 65 schools that make up the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big Twelve and PAC 12, and they vote on any legislation that is to be implemented across the entire NCAA.

“There were two pieces of legislation that were important to me, the concussion protocols legislation and the legislation on revoking scholarships and financial aid for athletic reasons,” said Hawthorne. “I wanted to make sure that Big Ten student-athletes were taken care of when it comes to concussion safety, and I was opposed to being able to revoke financial aid for athletic reasons. The concussion vote didn’t go the way that I was voting, but the Big Ten fortunately won’t be hindered by this legislation.”

The legislation on financial aid went in favor of Hawthorne’s vote, though it passed narrowly.

“I was happy with the way the vote turned out on financial aid,” Hawthorne said. “I felt that revoking it for athletic reasons could be the beginning of ‘play for pay’, which I feel is a mistake for the NCAA.”

Hawthorne’s drive and desire to be challenged, stemming from his competitive nature as an athlete, gave him the chance to be a part of history, and now, it has put him in a position that is ahead of most professionals of his age, in his field.

Currently the director of the Falcon Club, Bowling Green’s student-athlete scholarship fund, Hawthorne oversees all gifts to the club and raises the money to fund 425 student-athlete scholarships.

“Kit Hughes had been the Director of Football Operations when I was at State, and he later went to Bowling Green,” said Hawthorne. “I had known him since I was 17 and had kept in touch with him, and I saw the position come open and asked him if he thought it was something I should apply for.”

Hughes encouraged Hawthorne to apply, and after a lengthy interview and hiring process, he found himself as the Director of the Falcon Club at Bowling Green State University.

“It was a great fit for me,” Hawthorne said. “It’s a lot of responsibility and a title that most 23-year-olds aren’t fortunate enough to have, and I have learned a lot from it.”

For Hawthorne, this is only first step. He has taken a liking to providing resources for student-athletes and watching them succeed in their sport and in the classroom.

“It’s a fundamental part of college athletics and of what my career aspirations are,” said Hawthorne. “Right now my focus is doing the best that I can here at Bowling Green, but down the road, I’d like to think that my hard work and opportunities will lead me to being an athletic director, hopefully in the Big Ten.”

The experiences that Hawthorne has collected over his lifetime have made him very wise for a 23-year-old. While most young adults are caught up in the moment, Hawthorne has the ability to step back and appreciate both the big and the small things, making for a unique and fulfilling life thus far.

“You can take all of my earthly possessions away from me,” Hawthorne said. “But the memories that have I are something that I will forever cherish.”

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