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New team dietitian Samantha Hawkins living her dream with Commanders


On her first day on the job, the Commanders' new team dietitian Samantha Hawkins was greeted by a familiar face at OrthoVirginia Training Center at Commanders Park.

"I worked with Andre Jones and Percy Butler at Louisiana-Lafayette. First day I come in, Andre [Jones Jr.] gives me the biggest hug. It's just surreal," she recalled. "You know, younger in my career and younger in their careers, we were working to get to the highest level, and now we're here."

Hawkin's arrival in Washington is the realization of a dream that started years and years ago. Achieving this goal was made possible by her intense discipline, hard work and passion for serving.

For the Charleston, South Carolina, native, a love of food developed at an early age as she was immersed in the rich culinary culture of the region while being brought up in a food-loving family.

"We're the appetizer family, if you will. When we go to dinner, we have to order an appetizer," she said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, a love of sports really kickstarted as a teen when she moved to the sports-obsessed state of Mississippi during high school. Football and baseball games were often the week's events for Hawkins and her classmates.


"I loved the atmosphere. It's this certain feeling that I can't even explain," she said.

When she became aware of the opportunity to take a sports medicine-oriented class at school, the choice was easy. Sitting in that class one day, the teacher prompted everyone to go to the next chapter and the trajectory of Hawkins' life changed with the flip of a few pages.

"It rolled up into sports nutrition…and that's when we started learning how nutrients can affect the body, how food can maximize and inhibit your performance, all these things," Hawkins recalled. "And I'm 16 years old, I Google 'sports nutrition,' and first thing that comes up is the head of sports nutrition for an NFL team, and I said, 'That's what I'm going to be.' So, at 16, I told my friends, my family, my classmates."

From that moment, Hawkins was tunnel vision on her goal. Before even stepping on campus at Mississippi State, she e-mailed the dietitian who worked in the Bulldogs athletic department about volunteering and worked her way up to being the right hand for the football dietitian by the time she was a senior.

In the pursuit of completing her master's and becoming a registered dietitian, she logged thousands of hours learning how to best fuel football players at Louisiana State, the University of North Carolina and Southeastern Louisiana University.

All these experiences led her to landing her first full-time sports dietitian job. She became the associate director of athletic performance for sports nutrition at University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and work came at her hard and fast after the director above her went on leave.

"I became the head of everything two weeks into my full-time job," Hawkins said. "It was a great learning experience. I learned how to handle a lot of things, how to ask for help and how to just wear a lot of hats … And we got it done."

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After a winning season with Ragin' Cajuns football team, a new challenge came knocking.

"I was hired as the first full-time dietitian for Memphis football, so I built the football nutrition program for the last few years, and it's something I'm very, very proud of," she said. "That experience molded me into the dietitian that I am today not only from the university but from the city standpoint. Memphis is gritty and it has a whole lot of heart. I loved living there."

With each role she'd been in, Hawkins learned more about her craft and got a better understanding of what it takes to work in football.

"Working in sports is tough and you have to have thick skin, and I think my experiences have taught me to do that," she said.

Thick skin, grit, heart and so many of the other traits she had either adopted or had already been part of her personality became key once she got word that the Commanders had an opening at team dietitian.

"I said, 'I don't know how but I'm going to find my way to at least get on the phone with someone or get my resume on somebody's desk,'" Hawkins recalled.

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That inspired self-starter mentality in combination with some of the relationships she developed did indeed get her resume on somebody's desk. Washington's head strength and conditioning coach Chad Englehart loved her.

Not long after the new year started, Hawkins got the call and learned she would be Commanders next team dietitian. She was so eager to get started in Washington, in fact, that she kept trying to ignore a medical emergency that required surgery and eventually put her in the hospital for three nights.

"I kept saying, 'I have to move. This doesn't matter right now. I have to move for my dream job right now,'" Hawkins remembered with a laugh.

The Commanders have certainly gotten a tenacious one with this former Bulldog. In her first few months, Hawkins has loved working with the kitchen staff in Ashburn and meeting a handful of the guys at the facilities. Monday, April 1 is when offseason workouts can officially begin for the Burgundy & Gold, and the new dietitian can't wait to meet the whole team.

"I'm so excited to work with these guys and help them maximize their performance from a nutrition standpoint," she said. "I'm here to serve."

Here to serve as an NFL dietitian. Sixteen-year-old Hawkins would be proud.

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