Like pretty much every other Texan, David Hawthorne was raised on Dallas Cowboys football.
But unlike most Texas-raised football fanatics, Hawthorne will get to play under the bright lights at the new Cowboys Stadium. Hawthorne, a second-year player from Corsicana, a small city that lies abou
t 45 minutes south of Dallas, will make his second career NFL start today against the team he followed as a child.
“Everybody in Texas grows up a Cowboys fan,” the Seahawks linebacker explained.
And because everyone in Texas grows up a Cowboys fan, a few dozen of the 90,000-plus fans that pack themselves into Cowboys Stadium this afternoon might find themselves a bit conflicted.
Among the 35 or 40 friends and family members Hawthorne expects to have in attendance will be his father, also named David.
“My dad is a diehard Cowboys fan,” Hawthorne said. “Last year he had two hats on. He had a Seahawks hat forward and a Cowboys hat backwards. This year I think he’ll be pulling a little bit more for me.”
A lot has changed since the elder David Hawthorne spent a conflicted afternoon at Texas Stadium last Thanksgiving. Last season, Hawthorne was an undrafted free agent out of Texas Christian University who barely made the Seahawks roster. He made a name for himself on special teams, earning the nickname, “Heater” for his hard hits.
But when the Seahawks return to Dallas, Hawthorne will be the Seahawks’ starting middle linebacker because of a season-ending injury to Lofa Tatupu. It will be the second start this season for Hawthorne, who also got the call when Tatupu was sidelined with a hamstring injury against Chicago last month.
Hawthorne knows it won’t be a normal day at the office.
“There are a bunch of things that’ll go into the game,” he said. “I’m back home. We need to get back on the right track. I’m starting this game, and with all of those elements combined it’s going to make it a real exciting game for me.”
But even though Hawthorne will be excited, he won’t be as nervous heading into this game, having already gotten the first-start jitters out of his system against the Bears.
“It feels a little bit different this time as opposed to last time, because it was my first start in the NFL, and the expectations and all of that were all over the place,” he said. “But I think I got a little confidence after being a starter already, so I think it’ll go well.”
Hawthorne wasn’t the only person to gain confidence because of his play at middle linebacker this season. In that start against the Bears, he piled up 16 tackles and had an interception. Playing for Tatupu after he left Seattle’s last game with an injury, Hawthorne had four tackles, two for loss.
“He’s a hitter,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “I mean, he’ll smack you. He’s the Heater. He’s really picked up this defense well. I think he plays with confidence. I think the players have confidence in him. He takes it very seriously. He studies his craft. He’s a young, developing player, so it’ll be exciting to watch him develop the rest of the season.”
For a guy who has made a name for himself for his physical play, Hawthorne was hardly a player who wowed talent evaluators at the college and high school level. He didn’t move to linebacker until his senior year of high school, and even then he weighed only 190-or-so pounds. TCU was one of the only schools that told Hawthorne he could play linebacker, which is why he ended up there instead of Kansas State, which recruited him as a safety.
Even though other schools were willing to look at Hawthorne as a safety or receiver, he knew linebacker was his calling despite his size.
“Safety, it’s too technical,” he said. “You don’t get to hit people as hard or make as many plays. Being a linebacker in that box, being in the trenches, that kind of stuck with me.”
Now the Seahawks hope their decision to stick with an undrafted rookie pays off the rest of this season.
And despite his early success, a good game against Chicago in Sept. won’t mean anything if Hawthorne can’t back it up today.
“We believe in Heater, there is no doubt about it,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “But that was one game. Now we’ve got to see, is he consistent? That’s the one thing you can count on with Lofa. You knew every day what you were getting, and with David Hawthorne, we think we know what we’re going to get, but we just need to see it again. . . . That’s going to be his big challenge. ‘Yeah that was great, we needed that, but what have you done for us lately?’”
Back in his home state, playing in front of family and friends, Hawthorne hopes to do plenty this afternoon.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog