Oct. 20, 2009
By Sebastian Moraga
Note: This story appeared in the Oct. 10 football Gameday Program
Rylan Hawkins doesn't fit the stereotype. And he knows it.
He's the starting goalkeeper for the Washington men's soccer team. He's been chasing a ball around since he was three. But if you want to know who this 22-year-old really is, talk to him about anything but soccer.
'I'm a sports guy,' he says. 'But I'm not really a sports guy. I play sports butI don't get too much into SportsCenter and watch it for hours.'
Sure, he likes the stuff, but that's only a part of who he is. The senior goalie isalso an entrepreneur who has helped co-found a company that wants to connectnot-for-profit organizations with corporations around the world. He has inventeda scheduling program used by thousands of students at his alma mater. Herecently took up cutting a rug with his girlfriend at ballroom dancing lessons. Andto top things off, he carries around like a badge of honor a 3.92 grade point average, as it behooves a progeny like himself, the son of two Ph.Ds.
'I like to dabble in a lot of stuff,' he says. 'I'm definitely not a musicalperson, but I like to do a lot of things.'
This is a man who this season is coming back to the pitch after he suffereda devastating injury when an opposing player in New Mexico ran into himcleats-up and crushed his face two years ago. This is also a man who sufferedanother tough loss when in August of this year his father passed away after a15-year battle with a brain tumor.
So one can understand why this computer engineering major is not stayingup to watch SportsCenter. Between school, dancing, business and being therefor his grieving family, there just isn't enough time.
Still, when one watches him under the three tubes, it's hard not to think thatthis guy was born to be a team's gatekeeper and it's hard not to see him in apro league someday.
He knows that, too. And that's why despite his myriad of other interests andtalents, he wants to hitch his wagon to soccer for as long as he can. He hastrained with Major League Soccer teams already and hopes to wear theircolors someday.
'I've worked so hard, I've spent so much time doing it that I don't want togive it up,' he says. 'I want to compete at the highest level I can before I turnaround and say `OK, I'm done with soccer.''
This native of Shoreline, Wash. who started out as a field player inelementary school and earned a state crown with Shorecrest High in 2005would like to stay in the area, and his eyes twinkle at the possibility of playingfor the MLS Seattle Sounders along one of his favorite goalies, Kasey Keller.
'It'd definitely be exciting if I got to play here,' he says.
Not just because of the Sounders, but because of the city itself.
'I've been to other places and nowhere is quite like here,' he says of Seattle.However, even before being drafted, Hawkins knows what all drafteesknow: You have to go where you're chosen to go.
In that regard, this senior who red-shirted one year due to his injury (he callshimself a super-senior), wishes he had just one more year, if only so that hecould increase his odds of staying in the area. In the next two years, the MLSwill add teams in Portland and Vancouver B.C.
But if it doesn't happen that way and he ends up in, say, Chicago, it's allright. He's already worked out with the Fire and he's got family in the WindyCity, to boot.
Family is important to Hawkins. Besides the academic smarts he inherited,there's his Midwestern grandfather, who instilled in Hawkins a sort of earnest,do-it-yourself work ethic that has served him to this day.
Now, with his father gone, he uses his memory of the man as motivation.
'It's been a big inspiration for me this season ,' he says of his dad. 'Hewasn't a big sports guy but he showed up at every game.'
The teachings of his family have no doubt helped him deal with adversity,some of which he does not remember. It's not a choice; the kick in the face inNew Mexico left him unconscious.
'I don't remember any of the game, any of the warm up, the rest of the day,'he says. Given the extent of the injury, that's a real good thing.
'I shattered my face completely from my eye sockets down to my uppermandible,' he says marking his face with thumbs and forefingers. 'I broke alot of the bone around my eyes and I had my teeth wired shut for a whileafterwards.'
For the first-time observer, Hawkins' face shows no signs of such acatastrophic injury. For that, he credits the doctors at Harborview who tendedto him, installing titanium plates on the left side of his face. He spent sixmonths away from soccer, drinking his food through a straw.
'[I drank] a lot of Ensure.' he says of the protein drink. 'I got very sick ofEnsure.'
He wore a mask at practice for weeks, until a day he simply forgot it. Andsince he had a great practice, he just stopped wearing it.
Not remembering what happens also helps now when it's time to face thebig forwards of the Pac-10. Since there's no memory of the accident, there's nofear of it happening again. 'As a goalkeeper, you [have to] be fearless,' he said.Hawkins takes a great deal of pride in being the man under the three tubes.
He and the two other goalies in the team call each other 'Keeper Nation,' andHawkins says that his being the starter does not make him its president.
'We're kind of like the Three Musketeers,' he said.
If given the chance to do it all over again, he would stick to goalkeeping,although he says that some days he looks out at the field and gets temptedto return to those elementary school days where someone else was mindingthe goal.
'There's a little bit more glory out front on the field,' he says. 'There'ssaves that you know you didn't necessarily screw up, but you could've donesomething different and it could have changed the whole game, you would'vebeen the hero. But it makes the times you did save the game that much bigger,that much more special, that much cooler.'
Sebastian Moraga can be reached at email@example.com