This spring, however, Cody Hawkins packed his bags for Stockholm, Sweden, where he gobbled up the opportunity to play professional football for the Stockholm Mean Machines.
“Dropping my three bags in an empty apartment 5,000 miles from home, all by myself, was a pretty big moment I will remember,” he said.
Since arriving, Hawkins has experienced life — and football — like never before.
“I knew I wanted to play for a little while longer after college,” Hawkins said through an e-mail interview from Sweden. “I wasn’t sure where or how — I just wanted to play. To me, Europe offered a great experience. Not only would I be able to travel the world, but I would be able to finish out my playing career, get my feet wet in the coaching realm and live in an entirely new culture.”
Hawkins finished his career at Colorado last November. He wasn't on the radar of NFL scouts, but he wanted to keep playing. He has also always made it clear he wants to get into coaching.
With the Mean Machines, Hawkins gets to do both. Through his first five games, he was the country's leading passer. He set Swedish records for single-game passing yards (369) and single-game touchdown passes (five) in his debut.
“I have been playing pretty well, but we will see how our team develops through the season,” said Hawkins, whose contract runs through Sept. 30.
While he's trying to lead his team to victory from his QB position, Hawkins is filling other roles, as well. He said he always took time to make sure trainers, equipment staff and others knew he appreciated them. He appreciates them more than ever, though.
"Here, I am my own trainer and equipment guy," he said.
He is also more of a teacher than ever before.
The level of play in Sweden isn't near what it was in the Big 12 Conference.. Hawkins, in fact, compared it to really good high school, or even Division III college football. And, knowledge of the game is not too strong in the league.
“You have some great athletes out here, you really do, but the knowledge of the game is where you see the separations,” he said. “Here, you rarely get game film of the opponent, so sometimes you really have to coach on the fly. I do my best, but I am sure sometimes it seems like I am speaking in tongues. I help out at the U-17, U-19 and women’s practices during the week, as well.
“What the Swedes lack in knowledge, they easily make up for in enthusiasm."
Enthusiasm is something Hawkins has always had, even during some tough times in Boulder.
Hawkins is hardly the same person he was when he arrived, though. He said he appreciates family more than before, and has learned a great deal about different cultures.
“I live in an apartment complex with people from Iraq, El Salvador, Finland, Iceland, Italy, France, along with many Swedes,” said Hawkins, who will represent the United States at the IFAF World Cup in Austria next month. “Though you cannot communicate fully with all of them, a smile and a kind gesture goes a long way. My horizons have opened up, and I am looking forward to living the rest of my life with a much more enlightened perspective about the world we live in."
He's also enjoyed seeing a different perspective of the game he loves.
“European football is much more about using football as a medium to explore culture than it is to compete at the highest level,” he said. “There are days when I wish it would be a bigger deal, when I wish we could have meetings every day and game plan ’til our eyes burned, but you also enjoy the smiles on everyone’s faces before practice. Everyone plays because they love the game and have a blast with it.”
So far, Hawkins is having a blast, too.
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