Winter is coming, and though that realization isn’t as daunting in reality as on Game of Thrones, it is sinking in for Jerald Hawkins.
The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie offensive tackle, a Baldwin native and former LSU standout, is loving his new life and his new city and is getting all he’d hoped for and more from his jump into pro ball.
The impending big chill is a small price to pay.
Still, Hawkins is bracing for it.
“Being from South Louisiana, I’ve never seen snow before,” Hawkins said after the Steelers’ preseason win against the Saints on Friday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “It’s going to be a big change.”
The summer’s not over, but the change already has started for Hawkins.
The 6-foot-6, 309-pound graduate of West St. Mary High School is learning a new town, a new team and new technique on the offensive line. He’s studying defenses and learning new blitz protections under the tutelage of Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
And he’s taking it all in while he’s sitting out.
A shoulder injury sidelined Hawkins for Pittsburgh’s past two preseason games. That meant Hawkins came home Friday and stood on the sideline in a long-sleeved T-shirt and sweats.
“Definitely hard in your home state,” Hawkins said. “But it was fun coming back though. I still had a lot of family, a lot of hometown folks that came to see me. I saw in the stands, yelled and them and waved.”
For now Hawkins mostly is limited to workouts with light weights and resistance bands as he goes through rehab and is regularly evaluated by the Steelers medical staff.
“For me to have a little setback, it’s going to frustrate you,” Hawkins said. “You just have to stay positive and think positive thoughts so when you come back out, you can handle your business even more.”
Hawkins has handled his business to this point. During preseason camp, Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward compared Hawkins’ length and athleticism to the Jaguars’ Kelvin Beachum, who started 39 games for the Steelers before signing with Jacksonville in the offseason.
“I’m not saying (Hawkins is) there yet,” Heyward told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But he's got tools where he could learn to be like that.”
That Hawkins has been a quick study comes as no surprise to Ryan Antoine, who coached him at West St. Mary. Hawkins’ mother, Theresa, is a teacher who “stayed on him about education,” Antoine said, and helped him develop good study habits.
Hawkins also proved a fast learner in high school, when he was on the football, basketball, baseball and track teams.
“Doing multiple things — and even in football playing multiple positions — allowed him to adapt to everything and take on everything early,” Antoine said. “He was very versatile.”
Beyond football, Hawkins has made tough, real-life adjustments. His father, Warren, died when Hawkins was an LSU freshman, and though that was “a lot of adversity,” Antoine said, for an 18-year-old, Hawkins worked his way through it.
Antoine pointed to Hawkins’ carefully considered decision to leave LSU with one year of eligibility remaining as a sign of his maturity.
And though Hawkins remains closely tied to home, these days he’s exerting his independence.
He laughs when he says he misses “the quality of the seafood” in Louisiana, but he’s seriously ready for winter — and whatever else life in the NFL throws his way. He calls venturing out on his own “a dream come true.”
“It’s more than what I expected, even greater,” Hawkins said. “Especially the city of Pittsburgh. I’m loving it. It’s awesome.”