Much has been said about Pittsburgh Steelers first-round cornerback Artie Burns and the tumultuous year he has gone through since the untimely death of his mother last year, and how he has had to persevere through it, with his father imprisoned, for the sake of himself and his younger siblings.
But Burns is, unfortunately, not the only draft pick as part of the Steelers’ 2016 class who understands what it means to lose a parent, as Teresa Varley detailed in an article yesterday framing a conversation with fourth-round LSU tackle Jerald Hawkins, whose father, Warren, passed in 2012 due to a heart attack after ongoing complications.
Hawkins was just 18 at the time as a redshirt freshman in 2012 when his father died in early September. Back in 2014, as he entered his second season as a starter, he told Jack Chascin of LSU Now that he “felt like it was a nightmare”, that “it didn’t feel real”, having spoken to him just hours prior.
At such a young age and battling with his personal grief, he did not know where to turn, at first, as he describes how he “shut down for a month or two” in the wake of his father’s passing. His father was, after all, an integral part of his football life.
Hawkins shared an anecdote with Varley about how the two used to spend time watching football together. And when he was younger, they would watch the NFL Draft together, and his father would say, “you’re going to get there one day”.
That prognostication was made good on April 30th when the Steelers made ‘Hawk’, as he is called, the 123rd overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft with their fourth-round selection, knowing that they would not have another pick available to them until the 220th overall pick, which fell in the compensatory portion of the sixth round.
His father, whom they called ‘Hawk Eye’, was proven right. And perhaps if he had stayed to play his senior season, he may have even elevated his stock enough to hear Commissioner Roger Goodell be the one announcing his name from the stage.
Hawkins eventually turned to football for escape after the loss of his father, and he credited his offensive linemen, particularly 2015 third-round guard Trai Turner, for steering him back on the right path, telling Varley that Turner “pulled me aside and said you have to get over it. I know you are grieving, but this is what will make you stronger. Mature from it and learn from it”.
His other linemen were there for him as well, including then-senior center Elliot Porter and current Cowboys lineman La’el Collins. And now he has another group of linemen with which he can forge a brotherhood. Among them is veteran Ramon Foster, who lost his mother during the 2014 offseason.
Hawkins, as well as Burns, were both taught one of the hardest lessons a young individual could ever be forced to learn in losing a parent at an early age. Both of them had to mature rapidly, and through the adversity become their better selves for it.