State Track: Pine Tree's Hawkins heads back to state
May 8, 2017 at 10:20 p.m.
Eric Hawkins is certainly no stranger to Austin this time of year. He may even, just for giggles, change his cell number to a 512 area code when he heads south this weekend. But this is no laughing matter for the three-time state qualifier.
The Pine Tree senior track standout is making a third consecutive pilgrimage to the state capital to participate in the 2017 UIL Track & Field State Meet at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the University of Texas campus.
Hawkins, who clocked a fifth place finish at state in 2015 and followed that with a sixth place showing last spring, is most definitely hoping for that ol' third-time charm thing to ring true.
"There was kind of a feeling of relief when I qualified this time. It gives me the chance to go back and accomplish my goal of winning. This time around I feel that I'm a lot more focused," Hawkins explained.
The University of Louisiana Monroe bound runner knows his name carries a lot of weight at Pine Tree. The Hawkins handle is as synonymous with athletics at Pine Tree as is peanut butter to jelly.
In fact, Eric's coach in the 800-meters, in which he will be making a run for gold this weekend, is his uncle Alton. Father Tony was a Pirate exceptional in the 80s along with uncles Dana, Don and Willie.
His older brother, Tony, was a fair hand in the open quarter just a few years back at Pine Tree. Eric, however, has set the standard for which all 800-meter runners at his alma mater are judged.
"I really don't feel any pressure with my name. My goal is to go out there and continue the tradition. Most of them were football players and I wasn't. I'm also the only one to go to state in track. That's something you can bring up at the dinner table sometimes," Hawkins said with a slight grin.
A false start two years at the Tommy Miller Relays in Hallsville was Eric's last taste of defeat during the regular season course of track. He took third at regionals in 2015 and earned the wild-card selection to Austin as a sophomore. His time of 1:54 was a personal-best on the oval and earned him fifth place.
"I really didn't have high expectations that day. That year I only trained in the 400 and the 800 was just an added race," Hawkins reflected. "The race was really fast from the start and there were several with 1:53. I just tried to stick with them the whole time and I ran a 1:54."
Eric, in fact, has a two-year win streak during the regular season that amounts to roughly 16 consecutive first place finishes. He's garnered gold in each of his past two regional performances and aims to improve on his sixth place effort at state last year. That, incidentally, was the last time Eric didn't cross the tape first.
Longtime Pirate track coach Mike Darby said nothing Eric does really surprises him and he thinks the runner is ripe for a gold medal performance. He lauded the young Hawkins on his tremendous leadership and work ethic.
"Eric is very special. Kids like him don't come around too often. We're sure going to miss him," said Darby. "The 800 is a mix of speed and endurance. Eric has both. He ran cross country for us and was our top performer. He told me after the cross country season that he was going to win state in the 800 this year. He's been working all year to get to this point.
"The experience he has is a plus. Last week at the regional meet, he pulled it out in the final 10 meters. He beat a kid that had never lost before. He pretty well knows what to do and goes out and does it. We definitely hope he can win it. We're thinking 1:53 to 1:54 will give him the chance."
The formula for success has remained constant for Eric throughout his running career and he doesn't see that changing when he steps to the start line at 6:20 p.m. Friday evening.
"I think the key is getting out fast and hang with the leaders. Then when you get down to the last 150, you give it everything you have and try to out kick everybody," Hawkins said. "I go out with confidence that I have the ability to do my best. I've got one of the top times, which can put a target on your back. But it also excites you to know that you can go out and do your best."
Eric concedes, despite his return visit, he'll be a little nervous when all runners step up for the starter's final instructions.
"Oh, I'll still have butterflies. To me that just means you're ready to perform. This is my third time and I'll have more experience than most of the runners. There won't be any surprises. I'm just going out there and do my best."
(Follow George Whitley on Twitter: @GPigskinprof)