LAWRENCE — When Kansas’ Tanner Hawkinson needed some advice on preparing for the NFL Draft, he knew just where to turn.
Hawkinson, an offensive tackle who completed a four-year career in December, had just spent his senior season with KU offensive line coach Tim Grunhard, a former 11-year veteran with the Kansas City Chiefs.
So Hawkinson went and saw Grunhard, who offered a pretty simple message.
“Don’t get too caught up in where you are drafted,” Hawkinson recalled. “Just make the most of your opportunity.”
Pretty obvious stuff? Maybe. But for Hawkinson, who projects as a potential late-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, it was just what he needed to hear. He may get drafted, he may not. But he’ll likely latch onto a team when NFL training camps begin next summer. And for a kid from McPherson who followed in the athletic footsteps of his older siblings, this is an NFL dream that never really seemed possible while he was growing up in central Kansas.
“It was definitely something that was always in the back of my mind,” Hawkinson said. “But not too many people go to the NFL. So growing up, I was always just focused on the next step.
The same goes for safety Bradley McDougald, who along with Hawkinson, attended the NFL Combine in February. Both McDougald and Hawkinson are now both back in Lawrence, staying in shape and waiting for the draft. And they’d like to continue a recent trend of Kansas players in the NFL.
Despite a downturn in the program’s fortunes, two recent Jayhawks have beaten the odds and made an NFL squad as an undrafted free agent. The first was defensive back Chris Harris, who made the Denver Broncos in 2011 and has developed into one of the league more underrated cornerbacks. The other was linebacker Steven Johnson, who also made the Broncos last year.
“I remember playing alongside those guys,” McDougald said. “And then seeing them have success in the NFL, it shows you it’s definitely possible.”
Kansas coach Charlie Weis has said that McDougald has the physical skills to play in the NFL. And he has likened Hawkinson to former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, a smart player who played in the league for a decade. Hawkinson was a four-year starter who set the all-time record for starts at Kansas, and he hopes his football days are not over.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of kids dream of playing professionally,” Hawkinson said. “I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity.”