Lamar players Banks, Hawthorne gird for Lake Charles homecoming
After playing high school football less than five miles apart in Lake Charles, Kirkland Banks and Martell Hawthorne will return to their hometown this weekend hoping to help the Lamar Cardinals capture their sixth-straight win.
Lamar can put an exclamation point on an already surprising season with a win over McNeese State in its season finale on Saturday. Banks and Hawthorne have some personal motivation as well.
The Southland showdown will mark the first time playing collegiately in Lake Charles for Banks, a sophomore running back who starred at Barbe High School but didn’t catch the Cowboys’ eye.
Hawthorne, a senior receiver, hopes to contribute as a Cardinal one last time on the field his father called home while playing for McNeese more than two decades ago.
“It’s a hometown game, so that’s always exciting,” Hawthorne said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t get to see us play, so when we come back, it’s a big deal. There’s going to be a lot of energy in the stadium on both sides.”
Hawthorne graduated from LaGrange High School in 2013, helping his team earn a district title as a senior. He garnered attention from schools around Louisiana, including Tulane, UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe, but wasn’t recruited heavily by his father’s alma mater.
Martell Hawthorne Sr. was on the 1995 McNeese team that held the nation’s top ranking heading into the FCS playoffs that year.
“I didn’t really have one specific team that I liked growing up, but with my dad playing there, McNeese was cool,” Hawthorne said. “Now, it’s not like that.”
Banks was an all-state player at Barbe, but didn’t have an offer from McNeese, either. He does have extra motivation playing McNeese, but said it will be a “blessing” just be back playing in front of friends and family.
“I’m sure I’ll see a bunch of them at the game cheering me on,” Banks said.
Both players said getting recruited out of Lake Charles can be tough as scouts spend more time in bigger cities throughout Texas and Louisiana.
Banks figures to have a larger role on Saturday when the Cardinals go up against what Lamar coach Mike Schultz said will be the toughest defense his team has faced this season.
McNeese owns the second-best scoring and total defense in the Southland.
Banks scored the game’s first touchdown last week for Lamar against Houston Baptist on a five-yard touchdown run. He’s also been a receiving threat in the slot, catching 17 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown this season.
“We know that McNeese has one of the top defenses in the conference, but we have a good game plan that we have to stick to,” Banks said. “We have to be crisp on all our plays if we want to come out with a win.”
Hawthorne, a senior, is one of many versatile Lamar receivers that could help the Cardinals’ passing game.
He has only one catch this season in limited playing time, but the 6-foot-4 receiver could figure into Lamar’s red-zone offense this week.
“With our receivers, we’ve got someone for every situation,” Hawthorne said.
Schultz said he’s sure both Banks and Hawthorne will have a little more nerves than usual on Saturday afternoon. He hopes both can contribute to a Cardinals victory.
“They’re both looking at it as being ready to go back and play in Lake Charles,” Schultz said of Banks and Hawthorne. “Martell has been there. For Kirkland, he hasn’t played there since he got here, so I’m sure he’s excited about that.”