Most NFL teams wouldn't consider drafting a guy who hasn't played a regulation competitive football game since 2002. But then Micheal Hawkins isn't most players.
Once the highest-rated prep cornerback in football-crazy Texas, Hawkins has spent the past three years trying to revive a football career that got thrown off track during a tumultuous freshman season at the University of Oklahoma.
It's a quest that has seen him win "American Idol"-style open casting calls for football talent, a quest that has passed through the Arena Football League, a quest that has been funded with jobs at Wendy's and car dealerships, a quest that has come far enough for Hawkins to be selected by the Green Bay Packers with their second fifth-round pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, the 167th pick overall.
"He's definitely a diamond in the rough," said Packers Southwest scout Alonzo Highsmith, who found Hawkins through the Dallas Desperados of the AFL. "But I think if anybody knows about football, you don't find kids in this draft walking around at (6-foot, 1.5 inches) and running 4.3s (in the 40-yard dash)."
Indeed, Hawkins' 'measurables' are outstanding. Highsmith went so far as to call Hawkins "one of the finest athletes" he's ever worked out. And yet the only organized football Hawkins has played since leaving Oklahoma as a true freshman in 2002 was seven games with the Desperados. And even then he wasn't a starter.
"I will put this kid up athletically with any kid you've got in this draft," Highsmith said. "It's a shot in the dark we're taking, it's a gamble, but the upside and the return could be so great on him, and I think that's why we took the opportunity to get him."
To understand the unorthodox path that Hawkins has taken to the steps of the NFL, you must first turn back the clock, back to Oklahoma where he felt mistreated by the Sooners coaching staff, and then back again, to a rough childhood that affected the way he viewed the world around him.
As Hawkins grew up outside of Dallas, his home life was hardly normal. His parents were divorced, and Thompson said both struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Hawkins tried living with his mother, but she was never around. So then he tried to live with his father, but said he was verbally and physically abused (at Hawkins' urging, they have since reconciled).
And so for six weeks in high school, Hawkins was living on his own in a park. He'd wash himself in restaurant bathrooms, and wash his clothes by dipping them into the swimming pool and hanging them out to dry.
Eventually, a warm-hearted family took him in, got him back in school and pointed his life in the right direction. But when Hawkins left for Oklahoma, he left his safety net. In Norman, he didn't take well to the stern coaching style employed by members of the Sooners staff, less because the coaches went too far than because being yelled at reminded him of his troubled relationship with his father.
And so he left the team -- a mutual agreement, he said -- not wanting to return to what he felt was an "abusive situation." He tried transferring to TCU, but couldn't earn his release. And so he went out into the real world, and learned the value of hard work.
He got back into football by being one of just two players out of 450, he said, to earn a place on the Desperados in an open talent call. And once he was back in football, people recognized his name.
"Funny thing is, when you talk to Oklahoma coaches, they say that in the Stoops era (Hawkins) was the best athlete to ever come there," Highsmith said. "He never had the opportunity to progress and he admits that was his fault."
In fact, Hawkins' contrition over his behavior at Oklahoma and his forthrightness in talking about the situation was part of what impressed the Packers in their multiple meetings with him. Hawkins was one of 20 players the team brought into Green Bay for an official visit, and the Packers came away feeling that the 21-year-old (22 in July) now has the personal maturity to go with his physical assets.
"One mature man who has been through more life than any of us," is how defensive coordinator Jim Bates described Hawkins.
"He has been through some hard times," Bates said. "There's going to be a training stage, this guy is going to take some time, but if he's into football the way we think he is then we have a steal."
Clearly, Hawkins has a lot of catching-up to do on the football field if he's to win a roster spot, but he would hardly be the first Packers player to overcome a difficult childhood. Wide receiver Donald Driver lived out of the back of a U-Haul trailer for a period while growing up in Houston, but has become not only one of the team's greatest players on the field, but one of their best representatives off the field as well, where he is active in charitable projects and community service.
"Same type of determination as Donald Driver," Highsmith said of Hawkins. "You sense a maturity in him and a seriousness in him because he wants to succeed. If he was a loud-mouth or disrespectful kid, you could sense that, but I didn't.
"He admitted he couldn't handle college when he got there; he had no clue what he was getting into. He's grown up and he wants to be a good football player."
And the Packers still believe Hawkins can be that. Cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington -- who is beloved by players for his even temperament -- said he is eager to work with Hawkins and believes he will take to coaching.
"I think he has great character. He has the opportunity to redeem himself in that sense," Washington said. "I think the kid is going to get his second chance."
A second chance that's been years in the making.