Byron Hankerson balances football, college, and fatherhood in his last semester at FAU

Bryant Eng

Byron Hankerson. Photo by Michelle Friswell
Byron Hankerson. Photo by Michelle Friswell

In 2012, his senior season, Byron Hankerson made his biggest impact, playing in all 12 games for the Owls and hauling in the game-winning score against Wagner in Week 1.

But the wide receiver’s most significant accomplishment this year wasn’t on the football field. On Feb. 19, Hankerson became the father of a newborn son, Byron Hankerson, Jr.

“I am seeing him take responsibility and ownership and really rise up to the challenge,” said Hankerson’s father, Brian. “His son is here so of course we are going to embrace him and love him.”

The fear, excitement, and difficulty that comes with raising a child hasn’t changed Hankerson’s dream of playing professional football, though. He’s working diligently to make it to the NFL — and complete his bachelor’s degree — with his newborn son in mind.

“It makes you push just a little harder, that you are training for someone other than yourself,” Hankerson said. “It’s a motivating factor that keeps me waking up every day and working hard.”

Some of that hard work includes training with Athletes Edge, a sports performance company that specializes in preparing athletes for pro day and combine workouts.

Hankerson, a walk on to FAU in 2009, had spent much of his time working on maximizing his speed, strength, and overall athleticism in an effort to impress both CFL (Canadian Football League) and NFL scouts.

However, Hankerson’s training was primarily in preparation for FAU’s March 8 pro day workout. And despite his ramped up training regimen, the senior wide receiver was disappointed with his performance, which took place in front of 12 NFL scouts.

Hankerson posted the fastest 40-yard dash time of any of the players working out — a 40-yard dash time of 4.6 — but fell victim to his prior vices.

“I kind of went out there and my nerves got the best of me,” Hankerson said. “I reverted to my old ways and my old ways gave me an old time.”

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While Hankerson was not satisfied with his pro day, Jeff Sims, the Owls’ wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, believes that his former pupil has the potential to succeed at the professional level.

“He meets the number one criteria to be a professional football player — speed,” Sims said. “His timed speed in the 40 doesn’t speak to his game speed on tape.”

Sims affirmed that Hankerson has the upside, work ethic, and speed to develop into an NFL player, but acknowledges that Hankerson’s size — 6-foot-1, 180 pounds — and limited game time experience would require him to develop his body and skill set.

Sims didn’t question Hankerson’s ability to improve in those areas, and thought back to an example of when Hankerson’s work ethic had benefited him.

During a team meeting last spring, Sims warned Hankerson that if he left to use the restroom he would not be allowed back in. Hankerson disregarded Sims’ warning and left anyway.

Hankerson, as expected, was not permitted to reenter the meeting and found himself in his coach’s doghouse.

“He went to the bottom of the depth chart going into the spring last year,” Sims recalled.

He quickly found a way to get back in the team’s good graces, however.

“By the end of the spring, Byron had worked himself back into a starting position,” Sims said.

As a whole, Sims remains impressed by Hankerson’s work ethic, a trait that should help him find future success.

“It would be an intelligent investment for somebody to give him an opportunity to improve,” Sims said. “We have yet to see the best of Byron Hankerson.”

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Although Hankerson is committed to pursuing his dream of going pro, he also has career aspirations in the finance and accounting sector. Hankerson, along with his brother, plan on taking over their father’s accounting firm, Hankerson & Associates PA.

Byron Hankerson. Photo by Michelle Friswell
Byron Hankerson. Photo by Michelle Friswell

“I am a business management major and my brother is studying accounting so it goes well together,” Hankerson said.

Hankerson isn’t just interested in the lucrative side of the business. He and his father are also in the early stages of developing a nonprofit organization that helps needy churches manage their finances.

When asked about what the nonprofit meant to Hankerson’s family, his father explained that Hankerson & Associates’ work was part of a grander picture.

“You’re here for a purpose,” Brian Hankerson said. “God is giving you gifts and talents and resources. It’s about making a difference and impacting lives.”

God, church, and religion have always had an important influence on Hankerson’s life, football career, and now fatherhood.

“We have been involved in church and associated with ministry all of our lives,” Brian Hankerson said as he referenced Romans 8:28 . “We look to God for strength, guidance, protection and we really believe in the Bible and that we should apply it to our lives.”

That devout mentality has made a profound impact on his son.

“Everything you do in life is a walk of faith,” Hankerson said when asked about God’s role in his life.

In a few months, Hankerson will know whether or not that walk of faith will be on the grid-iron in cleats or in an office at Hankerson & Associates in leather dress shoes.

Regardless, that walk will definitely be as a parent, and Hankerson is ready for the task.

“God wouldn’t give you anything you couldn’t handle,” Hankerson said.

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Despite all else, Hankerson is maintaining a positive mindset.

The former walk-on made note of his solid 4.48 40 time while training with Athletes Edge, and added that he is hoping to showcase some of that speed at the Probound Florida Bowl on March 23.

The Probound Florida Bowl, better known as the Florida vs. the Nation game, matches up Florida’s elite college football players against players from all over the country.

The game could be Hankerson’s last chance to display his talent in front of NFL scouts before the NFL Draft on April 25.

But he’s keeping contingencies in place, too.

In case Hankerson is not drafted or invited to an NFL training camp this summer, he’s also scheduled two workouts — one on April 4 and one on April 8 — with two different teams in the CFL.

Hankerson’s dad feels that a potential move to the CFL would be tough for his son, whom he introduced to football around the age of eight.

But he continues to support Byron and encourages him to follow his dreams.

“[The CFL] is going to be challenging because he is a family guy,” Brian Hankerson said. “We’ll just get our frequent flier miles, pack our bags, and we’ll be up there.”

While hopeful, Hankerson remains realistic about his odds of getting drafted or signed as a free agent — let alone playing pro ball in either league.

“Football at the end of the day is a business as well,” Hankerson said. “If they don’t feel that they need you, it is out of your control.”

As far as continuing his road toward a professional football career, Hankerson chose rapper Young Jeezy’s words over his own.

“Anything you put your mind to, put your grind to,” Hankerson said with a laugh.

Hankerson might have walked on to the Owls team in 2009, but his best season came during his senior year as one of quarterback Graham Wilbert’s favorite targets. Hankerson proved his worth in Week 1 against Wagner, when he hauled in five passes for 93 yards and the game-deciding touchdown.