Kansas University offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson spent most of Saturday hanging out at his older brother’s house in Lawrence with friends and family, eating, smiling and waiting for the official word about where he would begin his NFL career.
The news came via a phone call from Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis a little before 2 p.m., and, with his support system smiling and stuffing their faces around him, Hawkinson quietly stepped outside and took the call.
“My agent had been talking to teams throughout the day, and he told me that the Bengals were interested,” said Hawkinson, whom the Bengals took with the 23rd pick in the fifth round, No. 156 overall. “It was just crazy. Just a great feeling of relief to finally get that call.”
Hawkinson becomes the second former KU offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft by Cincinnati. The Bengals made former KU All-American Anthony Collins the 112th overall selection in Round 4 of the 2008 draft. Although Hawkinson and Collins’ careers never overlapped, Hawkinson said their paths had crossed.
“I remember early in my career he would come back and work out with the old staff,” Hawkinson said of Collins. “We kind of said what’s up, but nothing more really. It’s great to know that you have another guy on your future team from your alma mater.”
Although the two former Jayhawks play the same position, the addition of Hawkinson does not necessarily spell bad news for Collins. That’s one of the things that inspired the Bengals to make Hawkinson the first Jayhawk drafted since Dezmon Briscoe was picked in the sixth round in 2010.
“They said they liked my versatility,” Hawkinson said. “(Bengals offensive line) coach (Paul) Alexander said he thought I could play all three positions: tackle, guard and even possibly sliding down to center.”
Alexander confirmed as much in a news conference announcing the pick.
“He’s going to play all the spots and make everyone’s seat a little uncomfortable,” Cincinnati’s O-line coach said. “Whoever has a bad practice, I’m going to put (Hawkinson) right behind him the next day.”
The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Hawkinson, who leaves KU with a school record 48 consecutive starts, said he was thrilled with the opportunity to join the Bengals, a playoff team in 2011 and 2012, and added that he never thought this would be his path when he signed with Kansas out of McPherson High.
“Playing sports all throughout my life, you always have the thought in the back of your mind that if you have the chance to play in college that’s great,” Hawkinson said. “I was always just focused on that next step, enjoying my time at KU. As my career unfolded here, I realized that it was possible to make it to the next level, and the fact that it happened today is a pretty crazy feeling.”
Jayhawks earn free agent invites
Fellow-combine invitee Bradley McDougald, a 6-foot, 210-pound safety who many expected would be selected, went undrafted but wasted no time securing a free-agent deal with Kansas City. McDougald was one of three former Jayhawks to get a shot from the nearby Chiefs. Quarterback Dayne Crist and defensive end Toben Opurum also were targeted by Kansas City, and all three will report to Chiefs mini-camp on May 9.
In other undrafted free agent news: cornerback Greg Brown caught on with the San Diego Chargers; offensive lineman Trevor Marrongelli was invited to camp by the Detroit Lions and linebacker Tunde Bakare received a camp invite from the Chicago Bears.
None of KU’s free agents are guaranteed anything. They first have to make it through mini-camp and then survive a round of cuts leading up to the finalization of each team’s 53-man roster late this summer. Despite those odds against them, their message was unanimous and best summed up in a tweet from Opurum.
“Chiefs mini-camp invite,” Opurum wrote. “All I asked for was an opportunity.”