Hawthorne looks for another title run

Hawthorne's CJ Ingram celebrates his QB sneak for a third quarter touchdown to go up 13-2 against Northview on Saturday.
Hawthorne's C.J. Ingram (7) celebrates his QB sneak for a third quarter touchdown to go up 13-2 against Northview in the Class 1R championship game.
Photo by C.J. Gish

After falling just short in back-to-back championship games, the Hornets made a third straight appearance last December and this time secured the inaugural Class 1R state title.

The Hornets won the title with a dominant 13-2 win over Northview (Bratt) and finished the season undefeated (12-0).

Cornelius Ingram, now heading into his ninth season as Hawthorne’s head coach, was elated to win the program’s first football title last year.

“That state championship was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my entire life,” the 2022 Florida Dairy Farmers Class 1R Coach of the Year said.

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Hawthorne's Jordin Fluellen
Photo by Tim Rodriquez Hawthorne's Jordin Fluellen

Ingram also noted how special it was to win a state title with his son, C.J., at quarterback and his older brother, Greg Bowie, at offensive coordinator.

“The cherry on top was us all being from Hawthorne,” Ingram said.

Senior cornerback Jordin Fluellen was a key part of the 2022 State Championship team. He currently holds Division I offers from schools such as Penn State, Troy and Dartmouth.

“A lot of teams in the area (haven’t won a state championship) in a while, so winning that felt great,” said Fluellen, who had 59 tackles last season.

Heading into the 2023 season, Ingram is encouraging his players to put last season in the rear-view mirror and to refocus their energy on the journey ahead. Throughout the offseason, he’s focused on keeping the team humble and emphasizing mental fortitude.

Ingram constantly reminds his players that the expectations for this year are the same as they’ve always been -- win a state championship.

“Last year’s senior class, that’s their state championship,” he said, so he’s told his players during offseason workouts that, “You’ve got to go get your own.”

Despite returning many starters, the Hornets lost some key players to graduation.

Defensive end Jailen Ruth, the 2022 Florida Dairy Farmers Class 1R Player of the Year, signed with Vanderbilt. Ruth was the anchor for the Hornets’ defense last season and finished the year with 94 tackles and 19 sacks.

Hawthorne also lost Jackson State signee Stanley Cooks and CB Darian Smith-Williams, who led the Hornets with five interceptions.

Hawthorne's Leland Johnson with a first half sack against Gibbs on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Hawthorne's Leland Johnson with a first half sack against Gibbs last season.

On offense, Hawthorne will miss the presence of tackle Mozell Williams, a Rutgers signee. Wide receiver Ga’mon Randall, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards, also graduated.

“We have some shoes to fill, but our younger players will be ready to step in those shoes,” Ingram said.

The Hornets’ major returning starters on defense include Fluellen, senior linebacker Earick Williams III (33 tackles and three sacks), and junior defensive lineman Leland Johnson, who accumulated 42 tackles and six sacks last year.

Hawthorne's Earick Williams III
Photo by Tim Rodriquez Hawthorne's Earick Williams III

“Our defense looks amazing heading into the season,” Williams said. “We’re ready to make big plays.”

Hawthorne’s defense held opponents to a mere nine points per game last season. Led by defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins, the Hornets have surrendered less than two touchdowns per game over the last three seasons.

Ingram attributes Hawthorne’s stout defense to accountability and extensive preparation. Players are required to watch a certain number of hours of film in order to play.

“There’s a sheet going out every day with formations of the opposing team,” said Ingram while praising the efforts of the defensive coaching staff. “They’ve done an excellent job.”

Hawthorne retains plenty of depth on offense. Key returnees include senior wide receiver Matthew McKinley and juniors C.J. Ingram and running back Keenon Johnson.

C.J., who passed for 1,016 yards and seven TDs and added 504 yards and 14 TDs rushing, has received offers from colleges including USF, Florida Atlantic and Marshall.

Although C.J. had an outstanding sophomore campaign, he injured his ankle early in the season and it bothered him throughout the year.

For his junior season, however, he returns injury free.

“This is the healthiest C.J. has been, which is awesome for us,” Ingram said.

Hawthorne's Keenon Johnson with a first half run against Northview on Saturday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Hawthorne's Keenon Johnson (9) with a first half run against Northview in the Class 1R championship game.

Ingram believes that Johnson has the potential to be a 1000-yard rusher this season. Last year, Johnson rushed for 433 yards on 58 carries. He will be even more involved in the offense this year due to the loss of running backs Brian James and Isaiah Donaldson to graduation.

One of the more anticipated games on Hawthorne’s schedule is against South Sumter on Sept. 15.

“I’m really looking forward to playing South Sumter,” McKinley said. “They have some fast DBs, and I love that.”

Hawthorne opens at North Florida Christian on Aug. 18.

“To make another state championship run, we need to stay healthy and humble,” Ingram said.

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