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    Jets WR Israel Hawker catches on after stellar preseason

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    Hawker celebrating a TD in the Jets' Week 1 preseason game.



    East Rutherford, NJ --


    "The day I feel secure is the day they call me into the office and let me know that I made the team."


    It wasn't supposed to be like this for Israel Hawker. A 2nd year player out of FCS Yale, the 6'2 197 Hawker could only stick around on the Vikings' practice squad for 5 weeks in his rookie season. Even he thought his short NFLHC career might be over. "I wasn't expecting much this year besides maybe a last minute preseason invite, and it was tough to see what team's roster I would make. I took the Jets' call because, honestly I didn't have too many options but losing last year's #2 and #3 receivers, I saw an opportunity."


    At the beginning of training camp, the Jets posted their initial depth chart on newyorkjets.com. The wide receivers looked as follows:


    1. Paul Howell

    2. Marcus Ratterman

    3. Adam Coles

    4. Eugene Sanders

    5. Rocky Kruse

    6. Dennis Carr

    7. Jesse Scott

    8. Phillip Fuller

    9. Israel Hawker

    10. Aaron Kotar


    As Hawker tweeted right after that release: "At least I'm ahead of Kotar."


    Nonetheless, he kept faith in himself that he could make the roster. He grew up just 15 minutes from Metlife Stadium in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. While he had a good high school career as a quarterback, throwing for 2 TD and rushing for another 20 as a senior starter in his school's flexbone offense, he wasn't expecting much of a football career past university. He did want to play in college, but he was certainly more focused on academics. While he received a couple of division 1 offers to play cornerback, Hawker chose Yale as they offered him significant financial aid nearly equivalent to a scholarship, and perhaps nearly as importantly, a chance to continue playing on offense - at wide receiver. He majored in applied mathematics over his 4 years in school, graduating with a solid 3.3 GPA, while also breaking into the offense as a true freshman receiver and immediately making an impact. By the time of his graduation, he'd broken the school records for career receptions (250), receiving yards (3,326), and receiving touchdowns (29). In his senior year he was 3rd in the FCS in both receiving yards and touchdowns. He figured that maybe that would lead to him receiving some NFL interest, but he did line up job offers from some companies - just in case.


    Hawker figured he wasn't likely to be picked in the draft - he wasn't invited to the combine and had to attend the Boston College pro day - and he wasn't particularly impressive in his workout, as he was dealing with a lingering foot injury. He figured there was no chance of being drafted but thought perhaps he could make a roster out of training camp. The Vikings gave him a chance in the preseason, but he was a disappointment, tallying just 5 receptions for 42 yards in 3 appearances. They sent him to the practice squad, and about a month later he was off a roster with little interest in signing him.


    "I went home and cried for like a week," he said. "I thought my NFLHC dream was over. I told myself, keep working out, keep in game shape, and maybe you'll get a call. I didn't get a call for the entire rest of the season. I just thought, if I can't make even a practice squad next preseason, it's over. I'll retire right there."


    That call eventually came from the Jets. With the team playing mostly primary backups in the first preseason game, Hawker lined up as the 4th receiver on the team. He didn't receive much playing time in the first half, and didn't record any stats. Unfortunately, on the first play of the second half rookie TE Dillon Abbrederis tore his achillies, ending his season. However, that did give Hawker more opportunities in the game, and he capitalized. On the fourth play of that first drive, QB James Dale hit Hawker on a screen. He broke one tackle, then another and was off to the house for a 40-yard TD, and tallied 3 more receptions for 20 yards over the rest of the game, including an impressive one-handed catch with time winding down. The Jets lost in overtime, but coach grv413 saw something impressive in Hawker. "His straight-line speed doesn't pop at you, but his agility and ability to break tackles really improved to year one from year two. I saw it on the practice field, but wasn't sure it would translate to games."



    Hawker continued his impressive performance against Lions CB Kevin McQueen.


    Feeding off his week 1 performance, Hawker really started to gain self-confidence, and it showed on the practice field. He started showing up long-term starter Marques Warner, 2020 2nd rounder Nathaniel Woodworth, and even burned Pro Bowl FS Reshad Jenkins on a double move. Coach grv413 told him he would be starting as the #1 receiver in Week #2. Hawker was determined to make the most of it. "I didn't want to blow my opportunity like I did in Minnesota," he said. And he certainly showed up, putting up 7 catches for 94 yards and a TD of 25 yards against the Lions' first round selection in this past draft. Rookie QB Tyson Chadwick struggled throwing to every other receiver on the field - Hawker had 94 and all other receivers had 76 - and in the post-game, he said that "Israel made things easy for me. It's like he just settled into his role with ease."



    Hawker continued to impress in the Jets' Week 3 win against Green Bay.


    Hawker sensed that his chances of making the roster had improved - catching such a large percentage of a QB's yards will do that - but he also sensed that he was still on the roster bubble. "There were some young talented guys ahead of me, and I still had an uphill battle," he said. "I had to keep it up." Going into Week 3, Hawker would line up across from Eugene Sanders as the WR2. Some still doubted his talents, but it was beginning to get harder and harder to doubt him. Despite his position, Hawker had a great game from Chadwick - 6 receptions, 82 yards, and catching both of Chadwick's 2 TD passes. The first was an impressive leaping grab against 6'3 Vontae Johnson, and the second was a simple slant taken 15 yards to the house. Simple yet effective plays were starting to become Hawker's bread and butter.


    Through 3 games, playing at WR1, WR2, and WR4, Hawker had 17 receptions, 236 yards, and 4 TD. With 1st round pick Adam Coles out for most of preseason with a severe concussion and Hawker dominating the open competition among Jets receivers 4th and lower on the depth chart, Hawker figured he had made his mark. He continued to impress in practice and in games. A few days ago after practice, he said "I feel like I've made my mark. If they don't want me here, I hope I've shown enough that someone else would be happy to pick me up."



    Despite low placement on the depth chart, Hawker still made an impact in the final week of preseason.


    In the final preseason game, Hawker played at WR5. "I wasn't sure if that was good news or bad news," he said. Nonetheless, in just a few snaps he still managed to add a 25-yard TD, burning Eagles CB Arthur Nelson on a post route. It was a head fake this time. He also added 2 receptions but for just 4 more yards.


    The Jets roster cuts began shortly after the game. Both Kotar and 4-year Jets roster veteran Dennis Carr were the first to go.


    Soon after, Hawker got the call.


    "I was really nervous, man," he said. "You don't want to be one of the first guys in there."


    Hawker nervously walked into coach grv413's offense, where he was told that he had made the roster. He would mostly be playing special teams to begin, but would receive a few snaps at receiver here and there. "23 years of hard work really pays off!" he tweeted. "Thanks to everyone who believed in me, but this is only the beginning!"


    The Jets front office felt that they had seen enough after that third game. Jets GM Jumbo told us prior to the Jets final preseason game, just a few hours ago, that "Outside of Paul [Howell], Coles, and Ratterman, every other spot on the receiver depth chart was open to winning. And Israel really impressed us with his massive improvement from the start of training camp until now, both with his performances in training camp and in preseason. We'd really like to see what he can do catching passes from [QB Erik] Wegert."


    "That kid can play," Jets WR Paul Howell said last week. "He's going to play somewhere."


    At least for now, that somewhere is going to mostly be on special teams, as Howell, Ratterman, and Coles are likely locked as the team's 3 starting receivers.


    "He's shown that he can catch the football, but if he can help us out on special teams it's going to be a huge asset for both us and him," said Jets coach grv413. "We'll try to work him into some specialist sets when we can, it's hard not to utilize a talent like his."


    Not that Hawker minds. "I'm up for helping out this team any way that I can," he said. "Anything they want me to do, if they want me to long snap, kick extra points, catch passes, I'm game."



    WR Israel Hawker 6-2 197 1 Yale [Speed] 71   


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