By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
What makes linebacker Riley Hawkins such a good football player is what makes it hard to find a good photo of him in action.
Hawkins helped the Cabot Panthers to a share of the 7A/6A-Central Conference championship this year and to the second round of the state playoffs, and his contribution makes him the Leader defensive player of the year.
But in trying to give Hawkins his due, it became clear in the recent photo hunt he was not the kind of player to stop and strike a pose. Most available pictures feature the back of Hawkins’ No. 44 jersey as he plunges pell mell into yet another of his 110 tackles.
But, while he won’t appear on many posters, Hawkins appeared everywhere else it mattered this past season.
He was one of four Panthers named all state in the 7A and was one of six Cabot players named first-team all conference. And to boot, Hawkins posted a 3.62 grade-point average to be named to the 7A/6A-Central all-academic team.
Hawkins was second on the Panthers with two interceptions for 11 yards in returns and he was among the tackles leaders in every game, including the opening victory against Jacksonville when he led the Panthers with 10 and picked off a pass.
Hawkins seemed to pick up steam as the year went on. In the final three regular season games he had 12 tackles against Bryant, a team-high 10 tackles and a fumble recovery against Van Buren and a team-high 12 tackles plus an interception against Russellville.
Hawkins led the Panthers with seven tackles in the playoff victory against Rogers Heritage and he had a team-high eight in the loss at Fort Smith Southside.
Hawkins even had a pass or two thrown his way when he filled in at tight end as the Panthers suffered a spate of injuries late in the season.
He is the second consecutive Cabot linebacker to earn the all-Leader defensive honor. Spencer Neumann, now at Central Arkansas, was defensive player of the year last season.
Not surprisingly, most of Hawkins’ all-Leader defensive teammates come from playoff teams or playoff contenders.
Linemen Drew Rambo of Searcy and Chase Parson of crosstown Riverview, helped their teams to the postseason, with Riverview claiming a first-round victory.
Nose guard William Conley and end Reece Totty earned all-Leader honors for helping Beebe back to the playoffs after the Badgers missed a trip last year.
Lonoke is represented by defensive lineman Antwane Wilkerson and defensive backs Wes Plummer and Justin Smith. Lonoke, which reached the 4A state championship game and lost to Shiloh Christian last year, failed to make the playoffs but was in the hunt late in the season.
Sylvan Hills missed the playoffs for the first time in four years under coach Jim Withrow, but hard-nosed lineman Alex Smith earned all-Leader defensive honors and was the only two-way selection as he was named to the offensive squad as a lineman.
It stands to reason Jacksonville, under former defensive coordinator and first-year head coach Rick Russell, would have more than one defensive player selected.
Defensive back Kenny Cummings and linebacker Rhakeem James had stellar seasons as the Red Devils battled for a 7A/6A-East championship, earned a playoff berth and took a first-round victory over Sheridan.
James and Cummings, both seniors, were also among Jacksonville’s first-team all-conference selections and James was named all state.
James led the Red Devils with 59 tackles, 32 unassisted, with five sacks, a blocked punt, a forced fumble and 11 tackles for 40 yards in losses. Cummings had 43 total tackles, one forced fumble, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two tipped passes and a defensive score.