FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Loyola coach Charley Toomey received a call from one of his closest friends a few years and tipped him off to Massachusetts product Josh Hawkins.
“You gotta see this kid,” the friend raved. “He’s as athletic as anybody I’ve seen on our field.”
Inadvertently, John Tillman had just ensured his own future would be a little more difficult.
One of the biggest headaches Loyola poses is none other than Hawkins, a defensive midfielder who has helped the Greyhounds reach the national title game for the first time since 1990.
Hawkins scored a goal just before halftime in Saturday’s 7-5 semifinal defeat of Notre Dame after what amounted to a one-man clear, giving Loyola a two-goal cushion that never became smaller.
“He just flies in at 100 miles an hour and just picks it up, and it looks like it’s so easy,” Loyola attackman Eric Lusby said. “It comes so natural to him. His transition game, just the way he can break down defenders — you see him and he looks like a running back.”
Little surprise, since Hawkins played football in high school.
“I love punt returns and I love kick returns, and I feel like clearing the ball is sort of like that, getting through the attack,” Hawkins said. “I use my speed and strength in that way. I miss football a lot, but this is also a lot of fun, and this is what I love.”
He’s found an ideal place to play at Loyola. The Greyhounds upended Maryland in the recruiting battle for Hawkins, and their up-tempo style fits perfectly with the junior’s skill set.
It was especially evident with his goal Saturday. While bringing it across midfield, he looked up at the large video board in the end zone and saw no one was trailing him.
Then he saw the clock. On the sideline, Toomey wasn’t about to take a transition opportunity away from the 6-foot, 190-pounder.
“I knew I had time,” Hawkins said. “I knew people were on the sideline freaking out thinking I didn’t know because I was kind of nonchalant about it.”
It’s one of the few times Hawkins would ever look laid-back on the field.
In addition to his six goals, Hawkins ranks second on the Greyhounds with 61 groundballs despite missing the first four games with a back injury.
“He’s probably at his best in open space,” Toomey said. “If he pulled his shirt up right now, he’d show you two tattoos of wings. He’s a ball hawk, and he flies around the field. He’s tenacious, and we’re just so fortunate that he’s in our locker room.”
Tillman, regardless of his altruism of connecting Hawkins and Loyola in the past, must figure out how to deal with the honorable mention All-America selection. The Maryland coach sees some similarities between Hawkins and Dan Burns, a defensive midfielder with the ability to influence proceedings on offense.
“He’s a very dangerous player, and what concerns you is you can have two guys going downfield and somebody could be with Justin and if he kicks it into high gear, all of a sudden that becomes an unsettled [situation] where they have one more guy than you do,” Tillman said. “We’re going to have to account for his speed at all points on the field.”