Rutgers freshman follows in teammate’s footsteps
With its second season in the Big Ten having just begun, the Rutgers men’s soccer team has a laundry list of improvements they look to make from their inaugural season in one of the country’s elite collegiate athletic conferences.
After the Scarlet Knights struggled in their inaugural Big Ten campaign (6-12-1,1-6-1), there were not many reasons to smile in 2014.
But while the season was looking bleak, the future was looking bright.
Jason Wright, a freshman last season, caught the eye of everyone in the Big Ten as he lead the Knights in both goals (10) and assists (5) on the way to being unanimously named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
The future of the team looks bright with Wright leading the Rutgers frontline. The Jamaica native has already gotten off to a strong start, scoring two goals in the Knights’ season opener against Siena.
But perhaps the biggest story from the match against the Saints was the inclusion of Brian Hawkins in the starting lineup.
Hawkins, a freshman forward, possesses all the tools to repeat Wright’s success from last season.
An NCSA All-American and New Jersey’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season in his senior year of high school, Hawkins was given extensive minutes throughout the preseason and was trusted with a starting spot on the right wing against Siena.
The faith placed in him by head coach Dan Donigan translates to confidence on the pitch for the forward.
“I talked to a couple of guys when I first came in and they said the biggest thing was to keep your confidence regardless of if you’re playing, getting minutes or on the bench,” Hawkins said. “So, they just said, 'Keep your confidence high,' and playing and getting minutes certainly does that.”
The transition from high school to college is never an easy one, even more so for an athlete. Hawkins has taken the transformation in stride, but he has also already recognized he'll need to adjust to the more aggressive style of play at the collegiate level.
“It’s kind of crazy," he said. "In high school, it’s extremely physical but this takes it to a whole other level. The teams we’ve played so far are the most physical teams I’ve ever played against."
The Chesterfield, New Jersey native entered Rutgers in great form, having set a Notre Dame High School single season record of 35 goals last fall. Donigan knew he had a great player the first time he saw him play and wasted no time in deciding to invite him to Piscataway.
“To be honest with you, the first time I saw him, I just saw his physical abilities and his instincts on the field," Donigan told the Targum.
“It’s what I’ve been doing for the last 25-30 years—watching kids play soccer. Kids can play above themselves at any given time, kids can play below themselves, but he was a guy that I thought had qualities that were special and I think over time he’ll prove us right,” he said.
The head coach in his sixth year on the banks was most impressed with the consistency shown by Hawkins whenever he would go watch him play.
“He’s from my county, so I heard about him a couple of years ago and I kind of tracked him,” Donigan said. “Every time I saw him, he did some things that I thought were special. Some guys have off days or down days where they just can’t get involved in the game, but there wasn’t one time when I went to watch that kid that he wasn’t getting significant touches on the ball, making things happen for his team. He has all the qualities that I want in a player that’s going to do great things for our program.”
Being a freshman who is already contributing to the team in the early going of the season, comparisons to Jason Wright are inevitable.
Rutgers captain Mitchell Taintor, who started all 19 matches of Wright’s phenomenal freshman season, believes the two players are similar and that Hawkins has everything he needs to repeat the success of his fellow forward.
“They’re both very, very good technically, they’re powerful and they can both score goals,” Taintor said of Hawkins and Wright. “Those are great attributes to have and it’s great to have two of them on the team. (Hawkins) is obviously really talented. He’s been playing a lot of minutes and he has a lot of potential too.”
Whether or not he has a freshman season as successful as Jason Wright’s is to be seen when all is said and done in December. But Hawkins can be sure that there is no shortage of confidence placed in him by his teammates and his coaching staff.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to him as to what he achieves,” Donigan said. “He’s certainly capable of being a leading scorer for us even though we have more than qualified guys in Jason Wright, JP Correa, Mitchell Taintor, Miles Hackett. We have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the back of the net and get assists and get points, but Hawkins is no different. In my opinion, his ceiling is unlimited.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.