As an eighth-grader, Brad Hawkins closed out his midget football career with a championship.
In a senior season that mirrors his final year with the Whitman Park midget football program, the Camden High School standout has an opportunity to duplicate that success.
Playing with a host of the same teammates, Hawkins and Company will play for the South Jersey Group 3 title Saturday against Delsea at Rowan University.
The similarities between the two final seasons are eerily similar.
In that final season before entering high school, Whitman Park suffered just two losses. Camden enters the title game with two as well.
Whitman Park would lose to Woodbury during the regular season and meet them again in the playoff semifinals. The same can be said for the Panthers, who suffered a 25-19 loss to Delsea in its second game but will get their chance again in the final.
The score of that loss against Woodbury? – 25-19.
There were ups and downs along the way each time, injuries to overcome en route to that place in the final. Hawkins hopes this season ends the same way – hoisting the championship trophy.
“It’s the same exact thing; it mirrors it,” said Hawkins, who will continue his career at the University of Michigan with teammate Ron Johnson. “But we ended up winning the championship.”
It’s been a long journey for Camden to reach this point. They were bounced from the playoffs in each of the last two years – strangely enough, last year in similar fashion to Whitman Park.
“In seventh grade we were undefeated and lost in the first round,” Hawkins said.
Collingswood did the same thing to the Panthers last fall, putting an end to their 8-0 run.
“They think it’s destiny,” Camden coach Dwayne Savage said.
“The journey? I never thought about that. I guess getting here … there were some rough patches that started to come together, and our offense is a little more diverse than years past. We can run the ball, pass it. You’ve got to play us a little different.”
Camden brings that balanced attack into its fourth appearance in a sectional final, a group of tough kids who can run the ball combined with an athletic set of receivers capable of springing big plays.
Savage knows just how important it is to be balanced at this stage of the game.
“When the weather changes, you’ve got to be able to run the ball,” he said. “That’s going to help us out with our championship run. We can run the ball, where in years past teams played us strictly for the pass.
“We’re shooting for everything. You don’t worry about being injured. We’re going for all the marbles. The season is down to one game and we feel good about it.”
Hawkins believes the Panthers will be focused.
“We came into the playoffs ready to play. We came out stronger and our defense was playing better,” he said. “Everybody has to play together. Everyone has to go hard every play. We can’t be outplayed by Delsea. We have to outplay them.
“As a team, we’ve got better every week. This is our last time playing together. We want to be known as Camden High’s champion. We want to come back 30 years from now and talk about how we won a championship.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; kminnick@gannettnj,com
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