Perhaps no running back in NFL history is better known for his powerful, physical running style than Hall of Famer Earl Campbell.
Campbell, a 1977 Heisman Trophy winner and former Houston Oilers No. 1 draft pick, hails from the football-rich town of Tyler, Texas. He earned the nickname “The Tyler Rose” as a college player at the University of Texas.
Campbell is the most famous football player to come out of Tyler High School, a school with a long list of graduates who went on to become professional athletes in multiple sports.
Charleston Southern running back Roderick Hawkins is clinging to his dream of playing professional football. He hopes to be the next in a long line of successful Tyler High graduates.
Hawkins, a redshirt sophomore, has never seen Earl Campbell perform, but has seen the videos. As Campbell’s cousin, he also heard many tales from family members of Campbell’s prowess on the grill.
“Oh yeah, we hear the stories,” said 5-foot-9, 215-pound Hawkins, who runs with a physique similar to Campbell’s. “I saw highlights and a man he ran with so much power, crushing people and breaking tackles.
“I try to model my style on him. I run physically and I don’t mind contact.”
Hawkins attended Tyler Junior College after high school and ended up in Charleston Southern before last season. CSU head coach Autry Denson, himself a former college and NFL running back, was unaware that Tyler, Texas was the hometown of Earl Campbell.
“I had no idea,” Denson said. “Wow. That’s interesting.”
Denson and Hawkins were joined almost by accident.
During the recruiting period in early 2021, Denson felt the need to sign one more running back in his class. He called a trusted friend in the coaching world, Thomas Rocco, the head coach of Tyler Junior College, looking for a diamond in the rough.
“In 2012, the very first recruit I signed when I was at Bethune-Cookman was a young guy that Coach Rocco, who was at Blinn Junior College at the time, recommended to me,” recalls Denson. “I took this young man without seeing him because coach Rocco said he was perfect. This guy ended up being a captain, a great leader and a great player, so from that point , Coach Rocco’s word was golden with me.
“So I called Coach Rocco in Tyler and said I needed a running back. He told me he had the perfect guy and that was Rod. I I personally recruited Rod to CSU and again Coach Rocco pulled it off. The man has a great track record with me.
Hawkins was part of a deep running room last season and had to wait for his opportunities. He had his biggest hit in a win over Hampton, going for 50 yards on 12 carries and scoring his first career touchdown.
Hawkins finished the season with 86 yards on 23 carries, but was able to make a bigger impact in the return game. Hawkins had 210 return yards, including a 59-yard kickoff return against North Alabama.
Feeling more comfortable on offense after a full offseason in the system, Hawkins hopes to have a say in the running game in 2022. He realizes the competition in the room, but has taken a positive attitude in the pre-season camp.
“We all bring something different to the table and the one thing we all know is that Coach Denson is going to give each of us a chance,” Hawkins said. “Coach Denson’s background was a big part of why I wanted to come here. He was a running back and he played in the NFL, so it was important for me to learn from him; who better to learn from and to get where I want to go as a player? »
But personal stats take a back seat to Hawkins. His only goal is to win.
“I want to win a championship,” he said. “I’ve been playing football for a long time and I’ve never won a championship. We got closer in my senior year of high school. I want to win a championship.
He may not win a Heisman and many in Tyler, Texas may never know his name. But Hawkins remains a proud Texan and will always love his hometown.
“I’m just proud to have this opportunity to represent Tyler at CSU,” Hawkins said.