Oct. 9, 2009
With an ever-changing beard that surely draws attention to itself wherever he goes, UNLV senior offensive lineman Joe Hawley is easy to pick out in a crowd.
Odds are, however, that most people probably wouldn't know that the man who sports said facial follicles is one of the top blockers in the Mountain West Conference, which is exactly how the burly Hawley likes it. That's because if an offensive lineman does his job well, the recognition goes to the quarterbacks who have time to complete passes down field and to the running backs that burst through holes created by their blockers.
About the only time the big men in the trenches make headlines is when the offense is sputtering. Not fair, true, but such is the life of a lineman.
"Offensive linemen are a different breed," Hawley says. "If you play the offensive line, you can't want that. Running backs and quarterbacks get all the glory, and we just do our job. Our teammates and coaches know how hard we work, and that is enough for us."
There aren't too many offensive linemen in the league who have done a better job along the line than Hawley, who entered 2009 as a preseason All-MWC second team selection by Phil Steele's, which ranked him as the nation's No. 51 guard. Hawley has also displayed versatility in his four seasons wearing the Scarlet and Gray, starting 16 games at center and another 10 at right guard, including the first five this fall.
In the most physical and demanding position on the field, Hawley has also proved to be quite durable, not having to miss any time due to any injury since stepping in right away and playing as a true freshman. When considering his body is going through roughly 70 collisions per game with defensive linemen and linebackers, that stat in itself is nothing short of remarkable.
Without having to endure an injury and moving around on the offensive line, Hawley says his UNLV career is closing quicker than he could have imagined during his first few practices at Rebel Park.
"It has definitely gone by faster than I thought it would," he says. "The past couple years have flown by and since I didn't redshirt and played as a freshman. It's hard to believe that I am already a senior."
Hawley has evolved from a rookie from Esperanza High School in Yorba Linda, Calif., with a good amount of potential into one of the unquestioned leaders on offense. With his leadership and overall ability being one of the keys, the Rebel line has gelled into one of the more efficient units in the MWC, opening up running lanes for the backs and giving Omar Clayton and Mike Clausen time to throw. Last year Rebel signal callers were sacked just 14 times and this season the line has allowed only five through five games, including giving up just one against Nevada, Reno last weekend in a game that Clausen threw the ball 50 times.
Making things even more complicated and difficult for the five up front is the fact that in the Rebel shotgun spread, it's usually just the linemen responsible for the defense, as four or five receivers take the field. That means communication is key among the big men when calling out assignments, picking up blitzers and keeping the offense moving down the field.
"We have five-man protection about 90 percent of the time," Hawley says. "That means if a defense brings a six-man blitz, which is what normally happens, we have to shift and take the most dangerous guys, and that is one of the hardest things you have to do out there."
Now the Rebels and Hawley enter one of their hardest stretches of the season, hosting MWC contenders BYU and Utah and ending October with a trip to TCU on Halloween. Although the past two games have not gone how Hawley and his teammates envisioned, he says there is still a lot of football left in the season and the opportunity to get back on course.
"Last year it felt like last year we started to turn things around and this year we have seven games left to do that," he says. "We have to understand that there are seven games left, and we have to stay focused, make changes and get better."
MORE WITH HAWLEY
Favorite TV show: Nip/Tuck