By EVAN VLADEM
For Storm defensive back Michael Hawthorne, the term “can’t” does not exist. Hawthorne has been a victim of people telling him that “he can’t” his entire life. He heard it when he didn’t start playing high school football until his junior year. He heard it at Purdue when he made an attempt to earn dual degrees in Engineering Graphic Design and Management while playing football. He heard it after suffering a fractured vertebrate in a game against Notre Dame in 1998.
Hawthorne, however, proved his naysayers wrong.
“I had so many people tell me that I can’t do this and that,” he said. “That word does not exist in my vocabulary. You will find a way. While weightlifting you may say, ‘I can’t lift it.’ No. You say, ‘my muscles are fatigued.’ You can’t defeat yourself. It is the same thing in life.”
Although Hawthorne did play little league football, he started playing high school football in his junior year at Booker High School in Sarasota, FL. All the while he was busy playing in the band and working to become the highest-ranking member of Booker High’s R.O.T.C. He was already a MVP varsity basketball player and a track star. In a matter of time, he became a two-year starter on the varsity football team while playing both offense and defense. Upon graduation, Hawthorne was offered scholarships in every sport he played (football, basketball and track), R.O.T.C. scholarships and academic scholarships. He chose to play football at Purdue University.
“I took academics very seriously,” Hawthorne said, “My brother went to Florida State and graduated with two degrees. Why couldn’t I? Yes, I did play football, that was my job but academics was what I was there for. I was going to leave Purdue with a piece of paper. I left with two. I always smile about that. People say if you break your leg today, you still have those pieces of paper to fall back on.”
He shined on the field and in the classroom. Hawthorne recorded 104 tackles at Purdue. He started every game at cornerback during his sophomore season, the first four games of the 1998 season before suffering a season-ending back injury and seven games during his senior season.
“I had the mental strength and mental capacity to fight through the adversity. That will come and when it does, will you crumble?”
He finished with degrees in Engineering Graphic Design and Management in four and a half years, received Academic All-America accolades and was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the sixth round (195th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Hawthorne played three years in New Orleans and recorded six starts and four interceptions. He signed to the Green Bay Packers in 2003 and played in 30 games during a two-year span. He played his final year in the NFL, in 2005, for the St. Louis Rams and started in all five of the games that he played in.
“When I stopped playing in the NFL, I had to make a decision. It was family or profession. I chose family. Family is behind me 100 percent in every decision I make now,” he said.
He moved back to Sarasota, FL. to be closer to his wife and son. Hawthorne still had other goals.
“One day it hit me” Hawthorne said. “I am always a person that thinks outside the box. As I have been told by one of my Senior Design professors, I have a creative and inventive mind. I wanted to come up with something that was catchy and different. I came up with Ml’sahe 26 and the concept of individual training.”
Hawthorne had a vision of creating a unique Health and Fitness Club that worked with individuals who were young, old, male, female, athletic and non athletic alike. His goal was to create, “a healthier and stronger person both mentally and physically.”
“There comes a day where you want to quit, a day you hit the wall and a day you can’t push through,” Hawthorne said. “I always preached the four D’s: discipline, drive, dedication and determination. You throw in a little bit of fun; all goals and dreams are attainable. That’s what I wanted to put on.”
He chose the Ml’sahe 26 name for branding and marketing purposes. It stands for the first and last letters of his full name, Michael Seneca Hawthorne, and his birthday, January 26.
In 2009, his vision became a reality. He opened a 1,500 square foot facility in North Sarasota. To promote individual training, the exclusive gym operated by appointment only.
“It’s not huge,” Hawthorne said, “I was taught that you can train somebody in a 3×3 area. We have a steady clientele that’s growing. We have parents that want to get their kids to the next level and parents that want to get their kids just to do something. Certain things can rub off on children. It ends up becoming more like a mentorship. We try to instill what’s at the end of the tunnel, there is brighter light. The day you settle is the day you lose.”
In January, Hawthorne partnered with IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. The world-renowned academy trains and educates athletes of all sports from tennis to baseball. He was asked to train and coach defensive backs at the IMG Academy football program.
“I love seeing the mind of athletes from other sports. I question even my wife, how did she do the heptathlon in college? I ask people, how do you run a marathon or how do ride a bicycle. If its around town, how do you ride a cycle for three hours on a 10-speed? How do you do certain things? People ask me the same things. How do you hit somebody that is 100-pounds heavier than you? How do you turn and stop on the dime? How do you have hips that move like that? I stop and evaluate. Every athlete has his or her niche. Not every athlete can do every sport; you can find some but not all the time.” Hawthorne said.
The Madden Football Academy is a designed camp for a weekend or an entire week and is directed by former Florida State and Carolina Panther’s quarterback Chris Weinke.
“He wants to compete with those schools that bring in the quote-un-quote talent and then not really care about the others. We all have a learning curve. You can accept both the guy that learns slower and the guy that learns faster. We all grow at different paces and run at different paces; our heartbeats are at different beats per minute. We are all different. The one thing that IMG is trying to emphasize is starting with the foundation and growing from there.” Hawthorne said.
It was during a football camp at IMG where Hawthorne was first introduced to Storm Head Coach Tim Marcum.
“At first I was like, ‘who is this guy’? This guy reminds me of Jimmy Johnson. He is cool, he walks around with this big ring on his finger and he has a Storm shirt on.’ I remembered that the Storm were out of commission last year so I was scratching my head. We had a conversation and he said he might have some work for me. We were laughing and joking, just having a good time. As that same day progressed, we went into doing different drills. I was teaching the defensive backs and I like to practice what I preach. We got into one-on-ones with the receivers and I guess he liked what he saw.” Hawthorne said.
On March 11, 2010, Hawthorne signed a one-year deal with the Storm. He still serves as an instructor at the Madden Football Academy while controlling Ml’sahe 26.
“I like to look ahead and try to plan. I don’t like going into anything blind. I ask a million questions and have to make a decision. I talk to individuals like Marcum that will understand that I need to handle business. If I need to talk to Coach Dave Ewart because something is going on at home, they understand. It’s good to be around people like that. That helps me. It’s not liked I’m locked into a specific situation but my commitment is with the team.” Hawthorne said.
Hawthorne spends more than two hours a day making the commute from Sarasota to Tampa.
“Sometimes you just have to put it out of your mind and do it,” Hawthorne said. “It’s just one of those things that you have to commit to. Like I said, the four D’s. This one goes into the category of drive and dedication. My dedication is to the community, to get myself back on the playing field and to get myself back in playing shape. Hopefully I can make my reemergence into the NFL. People are saying that I have been out for a little while. I’m not saying that I’m answering anyone’s questions but I’m just out here learning the game. It is a new game. It is like, line up at the 50-yard line and they say, ‘go!’ That’s it.”
Following the first three weeks of the season, Hawthorne is third in the AFL averaging nine tackles a game
“If you are going to be something, be the best at it. If you are going to be a plumber, be the best plumber that you can. If you are going to be a fireman, be the best fireman there is. There is a place for everybody,” he said.
In addition to playing in the AFL, running Ml’sahe 26 and teaching at the IMG Academy, Hawthorne serves as a motivational speaker, designer and artist.