PETRO: Covering games won’t be the same without Hawkins, Wheat

By CAMAL PETRO,

In my two and a half years of working here, last week was a first for me. Of the eight schools I cover, I’ve never had to deal with a football coaching turnover. PCS’ Joey Hawkins announced his retirement last Monday, then Purvis’ Perry Wheat soon followed suit on Friday.

Because I’ve never covered football coaches’ retirements, I had no idea what part of the year this type of news would go down. Apparently, March is that time. Football never stops, y’all.

Football coaches are whom I deal with the most. In the fall, I call every one of them at least once a week. We talk about the game prior, especially if I didn’t cover it, their teams and that week’s opponents. Sometimes we get off subject and talk about other things not related to football, which is always fun.

When the Hawkins and Wheat news broke, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my time with those two. I haven’t been here very long, and just a small fraction of their time in the Pine Belt, but moments with those coaches meant a lot to me.

Coach Hawkins, as I’m sure most of you know, is a jokester and that didn’t change when he was on the record with me. He’d always answer the phone with a joke, mostly calling me by a different name purposely, and he always had something funny to say in person, too. Even on the field in the middle of the game, he couldn’t help getting something funny out toward me or another media member.

Hawkins often asked, ‘Camal, who’s the toughest coach to get ahold of or interview?’ Without hesitation, I’d always tell Hawkins it was him. I was not joking, even though he probably thought I was. I literally called Hawkins every Monday at 10:30 a.m. for our weekly interview, and he always answered with, ‘I’m mowing the field,’ or, ‘I’m eating a sandwich. Can I call you right back?’

Just go back and look at all the postgame video interviews on our Vimeo website, Hawkins is always cutting up and making jokes. That always made covering PCS games more entertaining.

When covering Purvis, I always felt like I was learning something new after an interview with coach Wheat. I felt like I had to bring my a-game to our interviews because he would answer a lot of questions transparently.

If I asked him about a particular situation from the game the week prior, he wasn’t afraid to tell me the truth, but I had to ask the right question. I couldn’t just say, ‘What happened on that last possession?’ I had to be more thorough than that.

Take this for what it’s worth because I only went to a handful of games and practices, but Wheat was serious when he was on the field. Get him off the field, and he was a jokester like Hawkins. During Purvis’ National Signing Day ceremony, I can’t remember if it was the December or February ceremony, but he was making jokes with his players, myself and other teachers. It was a side I didn’t see that much from him, but that’s mainly because I hardly saw him in that setting. I’m sure it was more common for folks at the schools. 

These two coaches have helped me a lot since I’ve been here and I’ll miss working with them on a daily basis in the fall. Hawkins and Wheat will be around, I’m sure, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other avenues they take in life.

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