For senior Ryan Hawkins, the phrase "one kick at a time" used to reference his soccer skills, now it refers to his ability to kick the football on average 63.9 yards per kick.
Hawkins began his athletic career in soccer. A sport he was very familiar with taking up a lot of his time leading up to high school.
"I grew up playing soccer my whole life," Hawkins said. "When I got to high school I had no intentions of playing football. I played soccer my freshman year, and during my sophomore year the previous (football) kicker left so they needed a replacement. My soccer coach was also the football coach so he asked me to come out and kick a ball. So that's what I did."
Hawkins quickly went from just casually kicking the football to testing out his skills to become the new kicker at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Ariz.
"After that opportunity, I knew I could play football as well," said Hawkins. "From there, I started to get proper coaching on kicking. Going from three years of being the kicker at the high school level brought me here to NAU."
It would have been easy for Hawkins to stay with what he was comfortable with…soccer. After all, his younger sister Brylee also took up the sport with her talents leading her to a spot on the Grand Canyon University soccer team.
Hawkins left the sport of soccer to his sister, while he changed course and took his talents to the football field.
Being a kicker isn't as easy as it may look. They may be by themselves in practice a lot or appearing as if they're just waiting for their turn, and essentially "their turn" is the call they're always looking for. As a kicker, when called upon, you have to be ready physically and mentally. One bad kick and the entire crowd and those in front of their television screens are screaming like you stole their bike.
"The jump from high school to college is pretty big," Hawkins said. "I really embrace the pressure. I feel like it helps me perform better. I guess it all depends on your coaching. In both high school and college I've had great coaches and they have given me opportunities for success. That's what has helped me along the way."
Hawkins' success on the field has been due to his desire to be the best that he can be. In Hawkins' first season with the Lumberjacks, his primary role was kickoffs. He averaged 63.4 yards per kickoff with 34 touchbacks in 45 attempts. Not bad.
His sophomore season he controlled kickoffs again, while attempting a few PATs and a field goal. He didn't perform quite as well as he did the year prior, bothering him a bit.
"I came here and did really well my freshman year of camp," Hawkins said. "Something happened and I kind of lost my touch my sophomore year. Being behind Andy (Wilder) really motivated me to strive to get better and work hard every day. It was a humbling experience but I really learned a lot from him. I think that's what has helped me be where I am right now. By getting the starting job and last year performing pretty well, but I know I can do better."
Pretty well is an understatement. Hawkins was solid once again when it came to kickoffs, field goals and PATs, but at home against No. 2 Eastern Washington he was called upon to be the punter.
"It was pretty crazy," Hawkins said. "I had never punted before, but I enjoyed it. I feel like any way I can help the team on defense or offense then I'm going to do it. Going back to Andy, he helped me with concentrating. I would punt a little bit but never in a game. Eastern Washington was the first time I had punted in my career, so that's when I knew I really had to start working on punting. The transition was just crazy."
What's crazy is how far Hawkins booted his first-ever punt. Seventy yards. That's right. For someone who had never registered a punt before, he sailed it 70 yards for a touchback. Needless to say, he averaged 55.5 yards per punt that game in four attempts. When you add that with three made field goals and a made extra point, Hawkins rattled off 10 points for NAU leading to his first career ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week honor.
"I had no clue that I was even going to be punting and the fact that they threw me out there and I did alright was pretty cool," Hawkins said. "The three weeks that I got those (Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week honors) in a row, I feel like it just humbled me even more. It makes me want to work harder to get it every week. That's my goal. We had a good punt coverage team and that's what really helped me get those. They were the ones going down there and tackling the guy. It really helps out a lot, so I have to give it up to them."
Hawkins's junior campaign was a nice one. He finished with All-Big Sky Third Team honors as a punter and received honorable mention accolades as a placekicker. Hawkins earned the NAU Football Special Teams Player of the Year Award and was the only conference player to earn three-straight Big Sky Player of the Week honors.
In 2014, Hawkins went 12 of 16 in field goal attempts and had a season long 45-yard made field goal at Northern Colorado. He recorded 45 kickoffs for 2,877 yards, averaging 63.9 yards per kick with 35 touchbacks.
Next up is Hawkins' senior season. He has already been named an All-Big Sky Preseason selection and has been going hard in practice every day. For Hawkins, he just has to take it one game at a time and one kick at a time.