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November 17, 2010When fifth-year senior Josh Czajkowski suffered a hamstring injury against Clemson that cost him the rest of the regular season, the question immediately asked was who would replace him.
NC State fans found out last Saturday on the opening kickoff when freshman walk-on Chris Hawthorne trotted out on the field to handle the kick.
"I just tried to stay slow," Hawthorne said. "If I stay slow with my steps I can crush the ball. I hung it up there close to 4.2, which is better than I thought I would do."
Hawthorne's opening kickoff traveled 67 yards to the Wake Forest 3, and partly because of the hang-time, Wake redshirt freshman running back and kick returner Michael Campanaro returned it only 19 yards to the 22-yard line.
Hawthorne would get his first test kicking field goals on State's opening drive when he successfully booted a 25-yard attempt through the uprights with 5:42 left in the first quarter.
"Coach [Tom] O'Brien told me the goal was to get the first kick to be a PAT, but the field goal was okay," Hawthorne said. "It was from the left hash. I hit it pretty well. We went through it pretty quick but I hit it pretty well."
Hawthorne made all five of his extra point attempts and averaged a respectable 63.7 yards per kickoff. His one mistake was a kickoff that went out of bounds, giving Wake Forest the ball at their own 40-yard line.
"I just got quick with my last two steps going through the ball and slipped my hips going through the ball," Hawthorne said. "It happens on the golf course, too. I'm glad if that's the one miss I am going to have, I'm glad I am going to get it out of the way."
The mild-mannered Hawthorne handled his first assignment well, but Saturday at Chapel Hill against archrival UNC in Kenan Stadium will be a different test.
"Coming out here and having another good week of practice is huge," Hawthorne said. "Carolina is going to be a tough opponent, and it's a rivalry game, so you can throw everything out the window. We're going into a tough environment, so it's going to be tough, but having some confidence under my belt is key.
"The guys have done a pretty good job of getting used to the hostile environment. We tried to make it as game-like as possible, and they've harassed me pretty good. I think I am going to be ready."
Hawthorne said that preparations was the key to a successful debut. He tried to contain his nerves from the moment he was told by the coaches late last week he would be the kicker.
"I just tried to stay calm and collected," Hawthorne said. "I tried to do the same thing all week, just keep my head down and work.
"It was an adrenaline rush when we made the left to turn the road and we saw all the red and everything, it was pretty intense, but I try not to let the emotion overwhelm me the entire day and keep my head down like I've done the entire season and do everyday.
"You try to make everything simple and try to treat it game-like as possible."