Wood’s Alaniz signs with Norfolk State, Hawkins gets scholarship from Houston
Posted: February 7, 2013
WINCHESTER — They may not have a lot in common when it comes to size and stature, but Amber Hawkins and Chris Alaniz were kindred spirits Wednesday afternoon.
Surrounded by friends and family in the James Wood High School library, the Colonels seniors put pen to paper and signed their National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic careers in college.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Alaniz will be suiting up for Norfolk State University football team on a full athletic scholarship, while the more diminutive Hawkins will be running for the University of Houston in the fall.
For Hawkins, who will run both cross country and track for the Cougars on a 90-percent partial scholarship, the moment was one she wasn’t sure would come just a year ago.
A battle with low-iron anemia cost her most of her junior year of cross country and the prospect of catching the eye of college coaches seemed to be fading away.
“I think it’s always been her goal [to run in college] but I think last year when she started having all the health issues there was a some doubt that crept into her mind,” said Hawkins’ father Keith. “But once we got it cleared up — [Hawkins now takes iron pills] — she took off.
“I look at the state track meet last spring as the breakout when she ran that tremendous time in the 1,600 [5:03.58] and finished second. I think that jump started her.”
Hawkins parlayed the strong finish to her junior year into a dominant start to her senior campaign.
Fully healthy and raring to go, she established herself as the top cross country runner in the area, winning both the Northwestern District championship [19:45] by almost a full 90 seconds and the Region II title [18:26] by nearly 30 seconds.
In the process The Winchester Star Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year turned more than a few heads.
“I was looking at Coastal Carolina and East Tennessee State and then Houston contacted me,” Hawkins said. “The coach actually had dinner with us and I went down there thinking that I wouldn’t like it because it was so far away, but when I got down there it just clicked.”
Citing everything from a welcoming atmosphere to a team trip to the zoo, Hawkins said Houston had everything she wanted.
“The one thing I really looked for was a good team bond and how well they accepted me just coming in out of nowhere with no real intentions of staying and they just took me in,” said Hawkins, who plans to study Exercise Science. “It was really nice to see that.”
Hawkins said that Houston cross country coach Jesse Norman rarely redshirts freshman and that she relishes the chance to come in and compete in both cross country and track, where she could run anything from the 1,600 to the 10k.
That kind of attitude doesn’t surprise James Wood cross country coach Mike Onda, who believes that Hawkins has the right blend of ability and determination to take her as far as she wants to go.
“She’s one of the rare ones that I’ve seen that not only has a lot of natural ability, but also a great work ethic,” Onda said. “She’s focused, she’s dedicated and she’s willing to put in the work to take herself to the next level.
“A lot of athletes might have decided to throw in the towel [after her junior year] ... but she didn’t let that hold her back and that showed her character. I think she can go in and have an impact.”
Alaniz is hoping to do the same thing on the gridiron with the Spartans.
A three-year starter on the James Wood offensive line and two-time All-Northwestern Distrct second team selection, Alaniz started to think he had a chance to play college ball last year.
“Sophomore year I got brought up to play on the varsity and I started all but three games at left tackle,” Alaniz said. “And then junior year I started performing pretty well and getting some interest from some Division-I schools and I thought it was possible.”
A mauler in the trenches, former James Wood football coach Mike Bolin said he wasn’t surprised when the offers started coming in for Alaniz.
“He’s a physical, strong kid and he’s a competitor,” said Bolin, who noted that Alaniz was the first player in his nine years with the Colonels program to receive a full ride. “He’s got the talent.”
That much was obvious as Alaniz, whose older brother David plays tight end at Division 2 Minot State in North Dakota, started to get contacted by college coaches during his senior season.
Preferred walk-on opportunities at Richmond, William & Mary and VMI interested him, as did offers from a few Division 2 schools, but a couple trips down to Norfolk sealed the deal for Alaniz and his family.
“It was just one of those things where everything fit,” said Alaniz’s father David. “They were MEAC champs in 2011, the facilities they showed us were state of the art and the faculty really made it seem like they care about the students and make it students first, athletes second.”
Alaniz said he liked that Norfolk State has a strong technology program — he plans on majoring in some form of engineering — and that he will have a chance to see the field right away.
“The offensive line coach, coach Holder, told me that there’s a possibility, based on my skills right now, that I could have a chance to play as a freshman,” Alaniz said.
No matter when they start to contribute at their new schools though, both Hawkins and Alaniz said that officially being Division-I athletes was a dream come true.
“It’s incredible, it’s a great feeling. It’s years and years of hard work paying off,” Alaniz said.
“It’s amazing that my passion for a sport can get me almost a free ride in college doing something that I love,” Hawkins said. “It’s pretty cool.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1