Lewis Hawke seemed destined to become a soccer player for Scotland’s Greenock Morton.
His father, Warren, scored 53 goals for the club in almost 250 appearances during two separate spells either side of the new millennium. Hawke accompanied his father to many of those games, serving as a ball boy at Cappielow Park before signing amateur forms with Morton’s youth team in 2011.
A call-up to Allan Moore’s first team quickly arrived after Hawke scored 16 goals in his first 10 games at Under-19 level. The 6-foot-1-inch forward debuted as a substitute in a Scottish second-tier league clash with Raith Rovers in January 2012 and notched his first senior goal against the same opponents four months later.
Hawke’s rise put him in line for a full professional contract at Morton. It also made him a target for American college coaches that could offer a soccer scholarship along with the chance to earn a degree. He chose to follow in the footsteps of United States national team star Clint Dempsey by enrolling at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.
An injury limited Hawke to three goals from 13 substitute appearances during his first season at the collegiate level last year. He has returned to top form this season to lead the Paladins with eight goals in 20 games. Hawke’s diving header in last Sunday’s 1-0 win over Mercer sealed Furman’s first Southern Conference Championship title since 2007 and qualification for the season-ending national NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
TSO spoke to the 21-year-old Renfrewshire native by telephone shortly after Monday’s NCAA Tournament draw paired Furman with the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the first round.
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What do think about traveling to UAB, ranked No. 21 in the national coaches’ poll, for Thursday’s NCAA championship opener?
My roommate is from Birmingham. He’s informed me how they play and what to expect. They’re a good team. They’re a very physical team. I’ve heard that they play a little bit more long ball than us. We’ve played a few teams like that this year. We started to figure it out toward the end of the season, so I think we’ve got a good chance.
We’ve had a lot of injury issues. Our starting left-back tore his ACL and our attacking midfielder is out at the minute. We still won the Southern Conference so hopefully we can put it together.
How big a thrill was that for you to score the game-winning goal in a conference championship final?
It was a great feeling. Furman used to win the Southern Conference nearly every year. So winning it for the first time in seven years was fantastic for the boys. I’m loving it too because qualifying for the NCAA Tournament extends our season, so I get to keep playing.
I saw a Morton fan commenting that your dad would have been proud of your winning goal on Sunday. Brave diving header. Six yards out. Was that the kind of finish he was known for?
He was well-known for his heading. He was very good in the air, especially for his height. He’s a bit smaller than me but he’d pretty much win every header he went for. I spoke to him after the game yesterday and he was very proud.
Your parents are from the northeast of England, but you consider yourself undoubtedly Scottish?
Born and raised. I was born in Kirkcaldy and I lived my whole life in Scotland before coming to the U.S., so it’s the only country I’ve known.
That must cause some fun in the family on weeks like this when Scotland plays England?
I’ll be rooting for Scotland, always. My dad has been north of the border for so long now that he’s pretty favorable toward Scotland except when it comes to the major tournaments. But then again, we’re not usually in those.
[TSO Note – Hawke’s father started his career at Sunderland and appeared as a substitute in the 1992 F.A. Cup Final loss to Liverpool before moving north to Kirkcaldy-based Raith Rovers the following year].
Why did you opt for the college game at a time when you seemed to be making a push for Morton’s first team?
As much as I loved playing for Morton and I loved every opportunity they gave me, getting a degree was a big thing. My dad always told me it would be very important to have that for later in life. And you never know what can happen in football. I could play my whole career in Scotland and have a great career, but you never know if that injury is going to come.
It was tough because I enjoyed being at the club and I was leaving my family and friends. I just thought there was a far better opportunity over here to get better as a player and to get an education at the same time.
Is it simply too difficult to combine both disciplines in Scotland?
I did a college course back home and was trying to balance that with playing at the same time. You can’t do it. You’re either telling the coach that you can’t make training because you have a test or telling your teacher that you can’t make class because you’ve got training. You’re always standing on someone’s toes. There’s much more structure over here. Classes are scheduled around practice and vice versa. You can’t go to university in Scotland and play a sport the way that you can here.
You never signed a professional contract with Morton, which would have jeopardized your eligibility to play in college. Was that a deliberate move?
All the youth players were on amateur contracts. I didn’t get paid anything at Morton. When I got called into the first team I was offered to come in for pre-season training, see how everything went and then see what the contract would be after that. But I was also talking to Andrew Kean from the FirstPoint USA agency that helps to send people to the U.S. on scholarships.
Andrew is actually a Morton fan. We sat down and talked about the process, his experiences, how I could have four years at a good school with great weather. You can’t really turn it down, so I told Morton that I wouldn’t be signing a professional deal because I would be going to America.
You made nine substitute appearances for Morton and scored two goals. What is your standout memory from your time at Cappielow?
It’s got to be when I scored the game-winner against Cowdenbeath. It was a freezing cold Saturday afternoon and I came off the bench to score the winner in the last minute.
[TSO Note – Hawke’s goal secured a 1-0 win in this Scottish second-tier league meeting from November 2012].
What about as a Morton fan, before you joined as a youth player?
I grew up around the club because of my dad. There was one game when I was a ball boy and my dad scored. He ran over to celebrate with me. And then I remember celebrating with my dad when Morton won promotion from the old Scottish Third Division in 2003. That’s one of the biggest memories for me.
You had 82 schools interested in recruiting you. Why did you choose Furman?
I spoke to Penn State, Creighton, Kentucky and Elon. They were the schools I was most interested in outside of Furman and I felt guilty turning them down because they are fantastic schools. But Doug Allison, the head coach here, is a very persuasive guy and the program here is great. Spending four years here seemed like the best option for me.
And Allison, an Englishman with a Scottish family background, had a bizarre connection to your father?
He didn’t know my dad, but his dad actually supported Morton when he was younger. He knew all about the club.
How did you find it adapting to college soccer straight from playing in Scotland’s second tier?
It took me a while because I was coming from a place where I was one of the youngest guys on the team. I was coming off the bench and trying to make an impact. Here, I was looking to start more and trying to get my legs back after being injured last year.
I’d been told to expect that they would be complete athletes over here that are fast and strong and maybe not as game intelligent as you would find back home. You’ve got older guys involved in the Scottish First Division. They have more playing experience and they’re more intelligent, but I honestly don’t believe there’s much of a difference in standard.
That surprised me. I didn’t expect the standard to be this high. But I’m enjoying the fact that it is. That’s how I’m going to get better as a player.
How is life in Greenville, South Carolina?
The downtown area is fantastic. It’s very well maintained. It’s somewhere that you can really enjoy hanging out. The climate is great for nine months of the year. You’ve got sunshine pretty much all year round. It’s a lovely place.
What’s surprised you most about living in the U.S.?
I’ve been told that the South is a great place to live because everyone is so friendly. I’ve never had any issues with people. Everyone is willing to help you out. Say, for example, during the Thanksgiving holiday coming up later this month, everyone offers to take you in for the meal and stuff. That’s been the best thing about it. People make you feel at home.
What do you miss the most about Scotland, aside from family and friends?
Not the weather. There’s probably nothing I could single out. Well, Dairy Milk chocolate. That’s one thing.
Sept. 18, 2014 — Stateside Scots: Hamish Law, University Of Pittsburgh Forward