Brooks: Cody Hawkins Makes An Ironic Full Circle
BOULDER - Not long before the end of his fourth season as Colorado's head coach, Dan Hawkins made this revelation to a reporter from a Denver TV station: He made a mistake in bringing his son into the CU football program.
Although many will vehemently argue this point, the elder Hawkins' reasoning was not talent-based. Was/is Cody a major college quarterback? Some statistics offer a gray argument - he's become the third member of CU's elite 6,000-yard passing club - but the all-important W-L ledger offers a black-and-white look.
Yet Dan Hawkins' confession wasn't about numbers. Rather, he said in retrospect, he shouldn't have subjected Cody to the pressure of quarterbacking his father's team - particularly one that was losing far more than it won.
Life brims with ironies, and in the college football world this one will be hard to top. For the final five games of his college career, Cody will quarterback the Buffs. The pressure, the over-the-top fan criticism that Dan wanted to shield his first-born son from, has reached a Mt. St. Helens level.
Cody hadn't seen his father's TV disclosure when it was aired, but when it was picked up by the print media, Dan sought him out.
"When it came out in papers, he came to find me," Cody said. "He was worried about how it might be portrayed and where I might have thought he was coming from. I know my dad, I know exactly where he was coming from.
"And I totally understood; we were totally on the same wave length . . . it's just how it goes. You just understand, as far as being a coach's son goes. But I am my father's son; I've never shied away from a challenge and he hasn't either. Being able to spend five years with him and my mom - that's something I wouldn't trade for anything. I wanted the pressure, I wanted to be a part of dad's program. I knew I would have a well-round experience. The results are not what we envisioned."
Right about here, many Buffs fans will signal for a timeout and make the argument - a valid one - that CU football has a proud tradition and is bigger than any family's pursuit of togetherness. And that the family had to know that accusations of nepotism would come shortly after Cody was named the starting quarterback, that it could negatively impact recruiting a top-tier quarterback, that cynics would look first at the father/coach-son/quarterback issue, that the fan base would fragment when the losses mounted.
True to the script, that's all happened, with none of it lost on Cody. "I'm in a very unique situation," he said. "Lots of controversy . . . the United States likes controversy - look at the popularity of The Real World, Jersey Shore, Jerry Springer . . . people are looking for drama, a story line often put in a negative light.
"I think I've stuck to my guns. I think I've been the same person throughout, but I think, too, that I'm miles and miles from where I was when I first showed up here. I think I've grown since I've been here. If you talk all the time, you have to know when to talk. That's something I've learned. I think I've come into my own as far as being a leader (Even though he began the season as a backup, he was voted a captain by his teammates).
"I do know this: I've given it everything I had and my dad's been the same. I really don't care what's being said about me as long as they don't rip my effort."
But after 41/2 years, effort from both the father and the son has not been enough. Cody hears the boos aimed at both in their home stadium and is aware of the venom that's directed at both in cyberspace - although he claims his only regular Internet stop is ESPN.com.
"Sometimes kids in class text me or ask me if I really said such-and-such, but that's the only contact I have with the message boards," he said. "I don't pay it much mind."
Believe that or don't, but the enormity of it would be almost impossible for anyone to ignore.
Last Saturday afternoon, after he replaced injured starter Tyler Hansen in the second quarter of CU's 27-24 loss against Texas Tech, some of Cody's remarks were pointed - particularly at the media - during the postgame press conference. A couple of days later, he took exception to the claim that he "lashed out."
"I said everything in such a nonchalant way, I don't feel that I was lashing out at all," he said. "If that was lashing out, I wish my dad would have lashed out at us (his brother and two sisters) like that when were growing up."
Hansen's injury - a ruptured spleen - was severe enough to keep him hospitalized for the past several days. Cody intended to take him breakfast on Monday morning and visit, but with Hansen's mother still at the hospital Cody rescheduled his visit for Tuesday after lunch. He settled for talking with his teammate on the phone. Hansen, he said, was upbeat and "talking about returning for a bowl game . . . that's how he is; he's got a very uplifting spirit."
Reaching a bowl game will require a turnaround. "We have to look at the positive scenarios," Cody said. "We know it's going to be an uphill climb. We have to keep grinding and put our best football in front of us."
He says "an aura of confidence" must be resurrected for the season's final month, but in truth "an aura" of anything might not be as valuable as a rediscovered running game, consistency in the kicking game and the return of several injured players on a defense that is beginning to have trouble holding up for four quarters. CU isn't the same team that left Folsom Field with a 29-27 win over Georgia.
After opening 3-1, the Buffs have lost three consecutive Big 12 Conference games and must win at least three of their final five to become bowl eligible. They play at No. 11 Oklahoma Saturday night (7:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN), probably not the most opportune place to visit after the Sooners' 36-27 loss to Missouri last weekend. Nonetheless, Cody makes his first start of the season in Norman.
"It's not comforting to know how it came about, but it's a great opportunity to finish," he said. "There have been lots of ups and downs - a heck of a journey. But it's nice to know I'll have these last games to go out and compete and maybe showcase how I've grown. I think I've gotten a lot better as a player."
Although the cast of characters and overall circumstances have changed, Cody has experience against the Sooners. As a redshirt freshman in 2007, he directed the Buffs to a 27-24 upset of then-No. 3 OU at Folsom Field. He completed 22-of-36 passes for 220 yards, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Kevin Eberhart kicked a 45-yard field goal at the gun for the winning points.
That game, said Cody, showed him the "caliber of athletes" in the Sooners program. But the year before, as a freshman, he traveled to Norman and witnessed the game-day environment. "I think that's the thing that will help me most (Saturday night)," he said. "I know and understand the environment; that's the most valuable thing.
"I've said over and over that I've prepared every week like I was going to be the starter, and a couple of times (earlier this year) the call almost came. I thought I was going to play in the Cal game (a 52-7 road loss) and I was ready. Unfortunately for the team, I'm playing now because of an injury. But it's awesome for us that we at least have an experienced backup."
That's not true now. Behind Cody are true freshmen Nick Hirschman, a scholarship signee who enrolled in January and participated in spring drills, and walk-on freshman Justin Gorman. The plan in August was to redshirt both, but that plan is another injury away from being discarded.
Cody studied abroad (Italy) last May and as a fifth-year senior this fall is taking one lower division humanities course and working at a Boulder shoe store - a job he's had since early summer. At the conclusion of a fall semester in which football has been his focal point, Cody will graduate. Coaching always has been in his future, and his father has said several times over the past 41/2 years that someday he might be content to be an assistant on Cody's staff.
Feel free to fill in your joke of choice here - whatever time frame, place, etc. you deem appropriate . . . but Cody says having his father in that role would work for him. When I asked him if he worried about his father's future, he said, "I really don't. In football nowadays, everybody is always calling for somebody's head. Look at Mark Richt (Georgia coach). The same awful stuff that goes on is the same stuff that makes college football great - people care. But the thing is, everybody has an opinion and they have no problem sharing it.
"That's the good and the bad about this situation. I'd have my dad on a staff in a heartbeat. I don't care what people say about him, nobody will ever be able to say he didn't care. He genuinely cares about everyone around him. You need to hold onto those kinds of people."
In many cases, that's true. In college football, it isn't. Wins and losses win out. Always.