Dec. 28, 2010
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Most of the current football players at the University of Iowa had never heard of Hawkeye almnus George Hawthorne. After practice on Dec. 22, none will forget him.
Hawthorne was a three-year letterwinner for Iowa from 1987-89, playing right tackle for head coach Hayden Fry and offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz. For the past 17 years Hawthorne has worked for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department in Phoenix, Ariz. With his son Tyrese in tow, he watched the Hawkeyes practice Wednesday at Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe.
"I had an awful lot of fun with George when he was at our place in the late 80s," Ferentz said. "He had a great career on the field -- he was an exceptional player, but more importantly, he is one of the greatest young men I've been around. He's walked the walk. He gave a nice talk (following practice), but he's walked the walk. He is just a great role model."
Hawthorne grew up in Chicago and attended the College of DuPage, where he played for Hall of Fame coach Bob McDougall.
"Bob said he was one of the most tremendous young men he had ever coached," Ferentz said. "Just an outstanding person."
After a season playing for the Chaparrals, Hawthorne transferred to Iowa, where the Hawkeyes compiled a three-year record of 21-13-3 and played in the 1987 Holiday Bowl (20-19 win against San Diego State) and the 1988 Peach Bowl (28-23 loss to North Carolina State). He competed with the likes of Marv Cook, Chuck Hartlieb, Joe Mott, Dave Haight and Bob Kratch.
"(Former Iowa assistant) Barry Alvarez was so kind to recruit me into the University of Iowa," Hawthorne said. "It was one of the best moves of my life. I enjoyed Iowa City a lot. It was a nice, relaxed atmosphere in comparison to Chicago."
After college, Hawthorne attended two training camps with the Cleveland Browns. He finished his degree from the UI in sociology in 1991 and then headed to the Grand Canyon State.
"I needed something to do after that, so I moved to Arizona," he said. "There was no particular reason, I just moved to Arizona."
He played the 1995 season with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Iowa Barnstormers.
"It was a great opportunity for me to get to play college football, but most importantly, getting the degree was one of the best things I've done in my life. Without the strong educational background that the University of Iowa gave me, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish my goals."
"Being an offensive tackle, having to learn how to play defense and tackle...I hadn't done that since high school," Hawthorne said. "Shortly after that, I decided I was too old to play football, so I decided to get into some coaching."
So Hawthorne coached at Mesa Community College, Phoenix College and various high schools in the Valley. He also completed a coaching internship with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals when Iowa alumni Dennis Green (1967-70) was head coach and Richard Solomon (1969-71) was an assistant there.
"Iowa guys gave me an opportunity," Hawthorne said. "That was a great time and I learned a lot."
Now Hawthorne assists at Higley High School in Gilbert, Ariz., but his primary occupation is captain in the county sheriff's office.
"It's a pretty interesting job every day, there's always something exciting happening," Hawthorne said. "Through coaching, he added that he has an opportunity to "give back to the sport that gave me so much."
One avenue is through motivational messages like the one he delivered post-practice to the Hawkeyes on Wednesday. Hawthorne addressed the team about choices they make in life and things to think about before making those choices. He concluded with an Insight Bowl request that included -- let's just say -- an emphatic victory for Iowa. The Hawkeye players roared before heading off the field; many shaking Hawthorne's hand first.
"I'm always predicting a Hawkeye victory," Hawthorne said. "I'm hoping we beat them and we beat them pretty handily."
Hawthorne earned a master's degree in management from Western International University which has several locations in Arizona. He has done much since his days as a Hawkeye, but those college times are days he will never forget.
"It was a great opportunity for me to get to play college football, but most importantly, getting the degree was one of the best things I've done in my life," Hawthorne said. "Without the strong educational background that the University of Iowa gave me, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish my goals."
Hawthorne always dreamed of working in law enforcement and he said by attending the UI, he was able to make his dream come true.
"I can't even put a measurement on the education and the things it has allowed me to accomplish in my life," Hawthorne said. "Being a captain with the sheriff's office is a huge accomplishment and I attribute a lot of that to my upbringing in the University of Iowa football program; being around people like coach Fry and coach Ferentz really taught me a lot about character, about being a man and those are some of the things football has given to me. As a football coach, I try to give those things back."
The Hawkeyes (7-5 overall) play No. 14 Missouri (10-2) tonight, with a 9 p.m. start (CT). The game will be played in Sun Devil Stadium (56,000) on the Arizona State campus and televised nationally by ESPN (HD).