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TAMPA — The play came to be known as “lead pass” and Ty Hawkins’ youth football team ran it plenty of times.
A few too many times for one of his players: Hawkins’ 10-year-old son and quarterback, Brandon.
Precocious for his age, Brandon approached his father about making a tweak to the play: faking a handoff to the right, rolling out to the left and looking for a fullback short or a receiver on a deeper route.
Hawkins didn’t often take playcalling suggestions from his players, many of whom were still learning the game. But he humored his son and tried it in the next game.
It went for a touchdown.
“That’s when I realized I didn’t have to stay vanilla with what we did,” the elder Hawkins said, chuckling at the memory.
Now a senior at Alonso, Brandon Hawkins has been entrusted with an uncommon amount of responsibility for a high school quarterback. He contributes to the team’s weekly game plan, has virtual autonomy over the team’s in-game audibles and constantly makes suggestions to coaches about what plays might work best during games.
“I’ve never given a quarterback the power that I’ve given him,” Alonso coach Brian Emanuel said.
Hawkins has shouldered the burden well this season, leading the Ravens to a 4-2 record — four straight victories — and helming one of the county’s most balanced offenses. He has completed 65 percent of his passes for 952 yards and nine touchdowns and thrown no interceptions in 93 pass attempts.
But Hawkins and Co. will face their biggest challenge tonight when they host defending Class 8A state champion and 8A-6 district favorite Plant (5-1), which beat them 47-6 last year.
“Everybody is pumped up,” Hawkins said. “There’s no intimidation factor.”
In the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Hawkins, Alonso has a steady leader for an offense that gets most of its explosiveness from a pair of junior stars — running back Ish Witter (776 yards, six touchdowns) and receiver Marcus Mosley (22 receptions, 373 yards, four touchdowns).
Hawkins has played under Emanuel all three of his years on varsity, forging a close relationship on and off the field.
Emanuel, a second-year head coach who was previously Alonso’s offensive coordinator, started his coaching career under Hillsborough’s Earl Garcia. Emanuel has coached a number of offensive stars, including Florida and Illinois product Jarred Fayson, and said none rival Hawkins in terms of their grasp of the game.
“He makes it easy for me,” Emanuel said. “He’s a gym rat.”
Hawkins learned a lot about the game from his father, now Alonso’s quarterbacks coach and former athletic director of the powerful Westchase Colts youth football program.
They started watching film together when Brandon was 7. They began collaborating on offensive schemes before Brandon became a teenager. These days, they spend their Sundays breaking down game film, doting on their fantasy football teams, then watching NFL games the rest of the day.
“He’s always had a knack for the game,” Ty Hawkins said. “I trust his instincts. Coaching him has made my job at every level easy.”
Mosley, a 6-4 receiver already sought after by a number of major colleges, said Hawkins often clears up confusion that can occur during a game.
“He gets everyone under control out there,” he said.
Plant coach Robert Weiner said he has seen much the same during film study and watching Hawkins during summer 7-on-7 competitions.
“To go along with his physical traits — his arm and athleticism,” Weiner said, “he’s got some intangibles. I’m very impressed with his poise and good leadership.”
Given all of that, Emanuel and his assistants remain confused about why Hawkins hasn’t drawn more interest from major colleges. In addition to his performance this year, Hawkins won the quarterbacks skills challenge — beating out some of the bay area’s top passers — at the John Kaleo QB Academy Skills Camp in July.
But so far, Hawkins, who also boasts a 5.1 GPA, has a scholarship offer only from Division I-AA Valparaiso.
The Ravens hope a strong finish to the end of the season, which includes games against Tampa Catholic, Wharton and Sickles — all boasting a number of top college recruits — could generate more buzz heading into the pivotal winter evaluation period.
“I don’t let it bother me,” he said. “I just want to play somewhere and be successful.”
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jdhometeam.