PELLA — In a season with a flurry of firsts for Central College quarterback Blaine Hawkins (5th-year, Ankeny), add yet one more.
Hawkins is the first Gagliardi (guh-LAHR-dee) Trophy winner in Central football history. The award is presented by Jostens and the J-Club of Saint John’s University (Minn.) to the nation’s most outstanding NCAA Division III football player.
The announcement was made Friday evening on D3football.com, moments before kickoff at the Division III Championship game, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, in Canton, Ohio.
Hawkins gave superlatives an exhausting workout in his marvel of a season and career. He set an NCAA all-divisions record with 63 touchdown passes this season. In 13 games, he completed 331 of 468 passes (70.7%) for 4,475 yards and eight interceptions while posting a passing efficiency rating of 192.1. He also rushed for 230 yards and five touchdowns on 83 carries.
Given annually since 1993, the Gagliardi Trophy recognizes athletics, academics and community service and is named for the late John Gagliardi, the former Saint John’s coach who retired with 489 career victories.
“Winning the Gagliardi Trophy is definitely pretty special,” Hawkins said. “It’s obviously a prestigious award and I need to give a lot of big thank yous to my teammates, my family and my coaches for helping me get to this point. I get to be the winner of the trophy but I look forward to sharing it with them because it’s something we received for the work we put in as a team. It’s pretty awesome to represent the guys and share this honor with them.”
It’s a milestone for one of the nation’s most tradition-rich football programs, said coach Jeff McMartin.
“It’s something really special,” he said. “It’s meaningful both for what Blaine has accomplished but also for the legacy of our program. And it represents what he’s put into the last five years.
“He has set a standard for what quarterback play at Central College should be from here on out.”
Hawkins was among five finalists, joined by defensive back/punter/return specialist Jefferson Fritz of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas); wide receiver Andrew Kamienski of North Central College (lll.), quarterback Wyatt Smith of Linfield University (Ore.) and quarterback Gavin Zimbelman of Aurora University (Ill.). The J-Club Board of Directors selected 15 semifinalists from nominations submitted by colleges. The five finalists were chosen by the Gagliardi Trophy national selection committee, comprised of 18 coaches, six Division III administrators, 12 regional voters and seven at-large voters. Each cast a ballot ranking the semifinalists. A fan ballot determined an additional committee vote and had more than 30,000 votes cast through D3football.com.
Earlier Hawkins was named the American Rivers Offensive Player of the Year for the second time and was a first-team AFCA Division III All-America selection. Hawkins, who carries a 3.58 grade point average with majors in economics and business management, was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America® second team. He was a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy as the nation’s top football scholar-athlete as chosen by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
In 2021, Hawkins led Division III in touchdown passes (63) and points responsible for (410) while ranking second in passing yards (4,475) and total offense (4,705 yards), third in passing efficiency (192.1), fourth in completion percentage (70.7) and fifth in yards per pass attempt (9.56).
In Division III history he’s tied for second in career touchdown passes (148), seventh in season passing yards (4.475), 11th in career passing efficiency (175.32) and 13th in career passing yards (11,802). He racked up more than twice as many career passing yards as all but one quarterback in Central history, Tim Connell (2004-07), who ranks a distant second with 6,181 yards.
He set school records for a game, season and career in passing yards, pass completions, pass completion percentage, touchdown passes, passing attempts and total offense. He also set school marks for consecutive passes without an interception (251, April 3-Oct. 30), consecutive games with six or more touchdown passes (6), consecutive games with five or more touchdown passes (8) and season games with 300 yards passing or more (7). He posted a 38-6 career record as Central’s starting quarterback.
Hawkins engineered a Dutch offense that ranked first in Division III in total offense (570.1 yards per game), passing offense (394.5 yards) and first downs (382) while ranking second in completion percentage (70.9) and scoring offense (53.5).
A two-time team co-captain and Heerema-Schilder Award winner as team MVP (2018, 2019), Hawkins helped lead Central to its record 32nd conference championship and 22nd NCAA playoff berth. The Dutch were 10-0 in the regular season and finished 12-1 overall, reaching the NCAA quarterfinals.
Hawkins also set NCAA Division III records for career touchdowns responsible for (rushing/passing) (176) and for most touchdown passes in a half (7, at Simpson, Sept. 25).
He delivered in countless clutch situations but perhaps his John Elway moment was at the end of the second-round NCAA playoff game with Wheaton College (Ill.), which had trounced the Dutch in the NCAA first round in 2019, 49-13. In the Nov. 27 rematch at Pella, Wheaton took a 28-24 lead with 2:41 left, but Hawkins and the Dutch drove 63 yards in 13 plays, twice converting on fourth down. With the clock ticking and under 6 seconds left, Hawkins hit Schminke for a walk-off 3-yard touchdown in the 30-28 triumph.
“All you have to do is put on the Wheaton game and just search fourth-down plays,” Hawkins said. “And watch it from the end zone. That will tell you all you need to know about Blaine.”
Hawkins’ humility is genuine and he’s accurate in acknowledging he had help. Wide receiver Tanner Schminke (5th-year, Boone) is the Division III leader in receiving yards (1,536) and touchdown receptions (19). Wide receiver Erik Knaack (5th-year, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) set the school’s career touchdown receptions record (36). Wide receiver Jeff Herbers (junior, Urbandale, Des Moines Christian HS) ranks fifth in Division III in touchdown receptions (16) and 11th in receiving yards (1,151) and set a school single-game mark with 16 receptions in Central’s NCAA playoff win over Wheaton College (Ill.) Nov. 27. Hawkins also played behind an offensive line that included first-team all-conference offensive guard Joshua Mayhew (5th-year, Aurora, Ill, West Aurora HS), first-team offensive tackle Travis Wagner (5th-year, Mesa, Ariz., Mountain View HS), second-team offensive tackle Que Baker-McCaulay (junior, Mesa, Ariz., Tempe HS) and second-team center Ian Den Herder (junior, Mesa, Ariz., Desert Ridge HS).
“We’ve had a lot of time to build some chemistry together,” Hawkins said. “We’ve had a lot of trust in each other and know where we’re going to be on each play. Working with two great senior receivers in Erik Knaack and Tanner Schminke and then a really smart guy and great receiver Jeff Herbers helps a lot. They’ve made some really spectacular catches and runs after the catch. And then obviously the guys up front, Josh (Mayhew), Que (Baker-McCaulay), Ian (Den Herder, Travis (Wagner) and Colton (Anderson) (senior, Boone) along with the tight ends, Billy Friis (senior, West Branch) and Aaron Roelfs (senior, Ackley, AGWSR HS) have made my life easier. It makes it really easy to sit back there and scan the field. Linemen don’t have stats but a lot of our success as an offense is really due to a lot of the work they put in.”
Yet while McMartin said that’s all true, he places Hawkins’ contributions far above the crowd.
“He made amazing plays all the time,” he said. “It just became normal to us. But it’s not normal.
“He has a composure that is different from other players. He has an energy when he plays and when he practices that is special. And he possesses some athleticism that a lot of quarterbacks don’t have. He can extend plays. He can get hit, almost fall down, keep himself off the ground, avoid a sack, move laterally to the left or the right and then find the guy downfield for a touchdown pass on a fourth down.
“Most quarterbacks can’t do that at all. Blaine does that on a consistent basis and almost makes it look easy.”
Hawkins also spent hours beyond practice and workouts, studying film.
“He’s a student of the game,” McMartin said. “Most quarterbacks prepare, that’s not unusual, but how he prepares is different. He sets a standard.”
The trophy design features a sculpture of Gagliardi and a player, representing the teacher-coach and the student-athlete in a one-on-one sideline consultation. Hand-cast in bronze on a polished wood base, the trophy stands nearly two feet tall and weighs more than 40 pounds. The words "The Gagliardi Trophy presented by Jostens & J-Club" are printed on the acrylic panel behind the figures. The words "Division III Player of the Year" and "Honoring Excellence in Football, Academics and Community Service" are etched on two panels below the figures.
Hawkins is among 15 Central players who returned for a fifth season after the 2020 season evolved into a modified two-game spring campaign. He’s happy they did.
“We knew we were going to have a pretty special team and we didn’t want to miss out on that opportunity to continue to represent Central College,” Hawkins said. “I think for all of us, the best decision of our lives has been to come to Central. It’s been a lot of fun and I think we would have regretted missing out on these opportunities. It was definitely a blessing to be out there every Saturday. I think every Saturday we’ve had the thought that, ‘Man, I’m glad I’m here doing this and not doing something else.’”