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TOP > Game Report > U.S. coach Hawkins: We don’t underestimate anyone

Game Report

U.S. coach Hawkins: We don’t underestimate anyone


When Dan Hawkins was building Boise State University into a major national program over a decade ago, the team had a saying regarding opponents: “Everybody is a Green Bay Packer.”


The reference to one of the most tradition-rich and successful NFL teams, he explained, means “basically that anybody can beat you. You better get ready for everybody in the biggest way possible.”


Hawkins has taken that attitude of never underestimating anyone into his job as head coach of the U.S. team at the upcoming IFAF World Championship in Canton, Ohio, where the host squad will be the prohibitive favorite to win a third straight title.


Hawkins is well aware of the threat posed by Japan, which has been focused on pulling off an historic first victory over the U.S. and regaining the world title it won in 1999 and 2003, when the U.S. did not take part.


“We know how committed [the Japanese players] are and how dedicated they are,” Hawkins said by telephone in an exclusive interview with X.League.com. “So we have a tremendous respect for what [the Japanese] do and how they do it.”


The 55-year-old Hawkins, who also coached at Colorado University and currently serves as a college football analyst for ESPN and SiriusXM Satellite Radio, says the key to victory will be for the team to focus not on certain opponents, but on what they themselves are doing.


“You have to really focus on yourself and being as good as you can be,” he says. “I think good football teams do things fundamentally correct, they don’t beat themselves. I don’t care what level it is, I think that’s what it’s about.”


The U.S. team only started practicing together last week in preparation for the seven-team tournament, which kicks off July 9 and runs through July 18 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Still, Hawkins says he is encouraged by what he has seen so far.


“I’ve been impressed with our chemistry. I’m impressed with how the guys pick it up. The nice thing when you have experienced players is, most of them have done particular plays or schemes before—they might have been called something else. It’s not like it’s totally new to them all the time.”


Looking at the tournament’s function of also promoting the game globally, Hawkins said that ability and love for the game were not the only factors in choosing the U.S. team, which consists mostly of recent college graduates.


“We wanted a guy that wanted to represent his country, a guy that understood the big picture of helping to promote football worldwide,” said Hawkins, whose most recent coaching stint was with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes in 2014. “Being an ambassador for the country.”


Hawkins was somewhat evasive when asked to identify the players to watch on the U.S. squad, saying game circumstances often make a star out of player not expected to be one.


“If you say, ‘Who’s going to be your best player?’ I go, ‘The guy that nobody thinks is going to be the best player.’”


For what it’s worth, among the players pointed out by the IFAF website are quarterback Kevin Burke of Division III champion Mount Union (Ohio), who threw for more than 12,000 career yards, and former Oregon State wide receiver Kevin Cummings, a member of the U.S. team that won the 2009 IFAF Under-19 World Championship.


Two of the players will be familiar to Japanese fans. Defensive end B.J. Beatty is in his fourth season as a star for the Obic Seagulls, while linebacker Matt Oh played last season for the Panasonic Impulse.


Beatty played for Hawkins at Colorado, and the coach is happy to have him on the squad. “He’s a great kid, he’s got a big soul and a big heart,” Hawkins said of the native Hawaiian. “I don’t care if you’re coaching football or running a business, you want guy like him around.”


Beatty was quoted on the IFAF website as saying it was a “humbling experience” to play for his country, and declared he has no intention of losing to his current host nation.


“I know many of the coaches and players, so there it is also a little bit about bragging rights when the tournament is over and I return to Japan,” Beatty said.


Hawkins said he has yet to “debrief” Beatty on the Japanese team, saying, “We’re just focusing on ourselves and haven’t really gotten into that.”


While the United States will be expected to come away with the title, Hawkins says the pressure is no different than for anything else they do in life.


“I think there’s pressure in everything. I coached my grandson’s flag football team in the spring. To me, it’s not presure to win, it’s pressure to do your best everyday. I know sometimes that sounds corny, but I really think that’s what life’s about, and that’s what sport’s about.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League