Hawthrone and Amaya have been a solid pair at safeties for Nevada | NevadaAppeal.com

Hawthrone and Amaya have been a solid pair at safeties for Nevada

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – They are the truly the odd couple of Nevada’s defense.

One is a fifth-year senior, the other is a wet-behind-the-ears true freshman. One is stocky and heavily muscled. The other is long and lean. One has played football most of his life, the other started playing only when he reached high school. One is on scholarship, the other isn’t.

Meet senior Nick Hawthrone and freshman Jon Amaya, the starting safeties on the Wolf Pack’s much-improved defensive unit which is in the midst of preparations for its MPC Computers Bowl appearance against the University of Miami Dec. 31 in Boise, Idaho.

The one thing they have in common is that both are students of the game, according to Tim DeRuyter, the Pack’s co-defensive coordinator.

Hawthrone has started all year at either strong or free safety, and Amaya took over the starting free safety slot in the second half of the Hawai’i game. They give the Pack a nice blend of talent, energy, experience and athleticism.

“Nick has done a good job this year,” DeRuyter said. “He understands what we’re trying to do. Nick is a smart player. He doesn’t have the greatest speed, but his knowledge of formations allows him to anticipate and be in position to make plays. He’s trying to teach Jon that.

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“Jon just picked up things extremely well. He’s been able to do things that it usually takes a lot longer to pick up.”

Part of that instinct, especially on Hawthrone’s part, is a result of hours of film study, both in team meeting rooms and in the privacy of his apartment.

“I live by myself, so after I finish my homework, I’ll pop a tape and watch,” Hawthrone said. “I watch at least a couple of hours a week. I watch the pass routes; how they run. I use what I have. There are a lot of safeties in the league. I’m not the fastest, but I know the game. If you know what you’re doing, it help you that much more.”

And, Hawthorne loves playing the role of teacher to his eager protégé.

“He reminds of me when I was younger,” Hawthrone said. “He’s a fast learner. The 3-4 is really hard. Somebody is blitzing on every play which means he has the middle third or he is coming down on a receiver.”

“He (Hawthrone) has helped me a lot,” Amaya said. “He’s helped me learn to read the different keys. He’s a cool guy. If I have a question, he’ll let me know.”


Hawthrone was a two-year starter at Grant High, an inner city school in Sacramento. The Pacers were a perennial powerhouse, and Hawthrone was one of the ringleaders of a speedy, hard-hitting defense.

He had offers from Oregon, Oregon State and Cal plus Nevada. He didn’t pass his SAT test until after most student-athletes had signed national letter of intents, and Nevada was the only school that stayed with him through the entire process.

No doubt both parties are happy with their decisions. Save for an injury that sidelined him for half of the 2005 season, Hawthrone has been the rock of Nevada’s secondary. In 34 career starts, he has 14 interceptions, returning four for touchdowns, including one against Boise State this season in a 38-7 loss.

The 6-foot 200-pound safety finished with 48 tackles and four interceptions. Not bad for somebody coming off an ACL injury, the first serious injury he had in his career.

Hawthrone underwent surgery in November, and when the school year ended, he returned to the Sacramento area and worked out with a former trainer of the Sacramento Kings until summer camp started.

“He exceeded my expectations,” DeRuyter said of Hawthrone’s comeback from the knee surgery. “We didn’t see him while he was rehabbing. He picked up where he left off a year ago.”

“When you come off surgery, everything sucks,” Hawthrone said. “You are limited in what you can do. Once you get your range of motion back, you start to see that you can come back. It was the first serious injury I’d ever had, and that was a real humbling experience.”

The injury in 2005 cost Hawthrone the chance to play in last year’s Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl, so he’s doubly excited about this year’s bowl game in Boise.

“I’m taking practice real seriously,” Hawthrone said. “It’s my last go-round. Me and a a few of the seniors talk about it, and we get to go against a good team.”

And, he’s hoping to parlay a good bowl effort into a training camp invite from an NFL team.


The 6-2 190-pound Amaya was a standout baseball player and four-year starter at Diamond Bar High School, and he was hoping to get drafted high enough to sign a pro contract. When that didn’t pan out, he turned to football.

“It was so late in the process that schools had already had given out scholarships,” Amaya said. “I sent out some tape.”

Nevada, like other schools, had no scholarship money for this year, but Amaya elected to come anyway. After the season he had (35 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery), no doubt head coach Chris Ault will have him on scholarship by next fall.

“I felt I did all right,” Amaya said. “There were a couple of times (games) I felt I could have done better.”

Amaya, being a true freshman, didn’t figure into the Pack’s plan at the outset of the season.

“There is an understanding around the time spring ball starts who is going to play,” DeRuyter said. “Those are the guys getting the reps. The guys we had back there weren’t making enough plays.”

Amaya saw his first significant playing time against Colorado State, and he responded with a six-tackle effort.

“After that, I got more and more playing time,” Amaya said.

Three weeks later, he played in the second half of the Hawai’i game and finished with five tackles.

The job was his, and anybody who contests him over the next three years will have their hands full.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281