There’s a pretty neat football recruiting story unfolding in West Virginia – Wheeling to be exact.
Remember Tank Tunstalle, the former Wyoming East standout that WVU and Marshall battled over?
Well, this player is also named Tank. It’s just that no one knows exactly why. Because he more resembles a jet – James Jett.
I refer to Wheeling Park receiver and defensive back Jerrae “Tank” Hawkins, Jr.
“He’s been asked about the nickname,” said Wheeling Park head coach Chris Daugherty. “He said he doesn’t know, but that his mom just started calling him that. I’ve always wondered why a tank, why not a Ferrari or Corvette?”
“He’s not built like a tank,” added Patriots offensive coordinator Drew Beihl. “They tend to be slow. He’s far from that.”
Hawkins, a junior at Wheeling Park, is 5-9, 160 pounds – and blazing fast. Like national track event participant fast.
In 2021, Hawkins took home a pair of silver medals from the West Virginia state track meet in the 100- and 200-meter dashes – second in both races to then-senior teammate Torrence Walker, now at Virginia Tech. Walker set the state record in the 100 at 10.5 seconds and won the 2021 AAU Junior Olympics in the 200 in 20.91.
In May of 2022, though, Hawkins won both Class AAA events, with a 10.54 in the 100 and 21.48 in the 200. As a sophomore. Jett’s 200 state record, set in 1989, is 21.39. All he did was go on to play for the NFL Oakland Raiders and earn a gold medal as part of the 4 x 100 relay in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. (He outran Carl Lewis during 100 prelims.)
Anyway, Hawkins has two more cracks at both Walker and Jett’s state records. In the meantime, major college football programs are taking note – and extending offers.
“He says he wants to play football,” Daugherty said. “Now, if he gets to the point where he’s really elite in track and things start to happen… But the elite sprint track schools start at 10.2.”
Beihl said Hawkins went to college football camps – in addition to track meets – over the summer. His speed and receiving skills led to many offers. According to Hawkins’ Twitter feed, Pitt was the first to offer back on Aug. 4 of 2021, followed by WVU on Jan. 15 of 2022 (he later ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the Mountaineers’ camp and exceled during one-on-ones), Toledo on May 13, Old Dominion on May 24, Penn State on June 9, Virginia Tech on July 29 and Wake Forest on Sept. 15. Oregon and Ohio State (Hawkins tweeted he ran 4.31 and 4.25 40s as a sophomore at the Buckeyes’ camp on June 1) are the others to have shown interest.
“I remember when he moved here from Virginia in the eighth grade,” Daugherty said. “Some of the younger kids were gathering on their own and they came to me saying, ‘Hey Coach, this kid’s good!’ Then, on his very first play of his freshman year, he returned the opening kick for a touchdown.”
Hawkins has more than a few things working in his favor.
“His speed is the biggest factor,” Beihl said. “He has elite speed. He may be the third, fourth fastest kid in the country if you look at the AAU results. He’s able to take a simple 5-yard hitch and take it the distance at any given time. He’s still learning some of the nuances, but he’s able to pick things up quickly. He’s a quality kid, a good student with a great personality.”
“What’s so deceiving is he can be running at 80 percent, when he’s in full control, and others are at 100 percent,” Daugherty said. “He can move and cut – and then he has the burst to 100 percent. It’s just special.”
Beihl said Hawkins also has the desire to work, to get better.
“He dropped a pass against University High the other night and wanted to immediately start working on the over-the-head, back shoulder catches with the JUGS machine and his quarterback. He has that drive. That will help him in the long run.”
And then there’s his attitude.
“He’s a fun kid,” Daugherty said. “Coachable. A lot of people have talent, but there’s not a bad bone in him. His strength is acceleration, but he’s also a great kid. I’ve never had anybody like him.”
Oh, and if WVU fans are wondering, Daugherty said, “They’ve done an excellent job of recruiting (Hawkins). I think he’s really enjoyed them. West Virginia and Penn State seem to be the two right now.”
With Ohio State and others lurking, though, it’ll be an intense race to the finish line.
+ + +
Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.