Honoring Robe: Former college teammates Hawke, Morgan mold semifinal teams with an eye on developing young men like their coach did

by William Weathers // GeauxPreps.com Contributor

University High baseball coach Justin Morgan won’t hesitate when looking across the field Wednesday at his counterpart, Phillip Hawke of Parkview Baptist, and reflect fondly on their time together playing at UL-Lafayette.

While their two teams – No. 2 Parkview (31-6) and No 3 University (26-8) – battle for supremacy in the Division III select bracket in a 2 p.m. semifinal – Morgan and Hawke share a mutual respect, and a perspective of the game, derived from their time playing for iconic UL-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux.

“We spent four years together, hung out a decent amount of time on and off the field,” Morgan said. “It’s hard not to consider that guy like a brother to me. Every time we see each other it obviously brings back a lot of memories, things we’ve gone through together in college, even though it’s been close to 20 years now.”

This is Morgan’s 10th season at U-High where he’s guided the Cubs to a record of 223-103-1, three state runner-up finishes and this year marks his program’s sixth trip to the state tournament.

Hawke embarked on a coaching career upon the conclusion of a professional baseball career, gravitating toward coaching for 16 years, the last three as head coach at Parkview, which is 87-28 and in its second state semifinal.

“We formed a bond and a friendship,” Hawke said. “It’s fun to see how his career has gone and the success he’s had at U-High. It’s funny anytime we get to match up because there is that common respect that’s there.”

With Hawke’s move from Liberty Magnet to Parkview, the Eagles and U-High were already rivals in District 6-3A that’s been ratcheted up another level since Hawke’s arrival.

The two teams have shared the District 6-3A title the past three seasons, having split six league games to display the razor-thin margin that’s separated the two schools located 10 miles apart in Baton Rouge.

The one advantage U-High’s gained was in the 2022 Division II semifinals with a 7-5 victory en route to a second-place finish to Vandebilt Catholic.

“Even though it can get contested on the field, we’re both competitors and want our teams to win,” Morgan said. “There’s still a lot of mutual respect there.”

Laying a foundation for the future

Hawke was a standout first baseman at Woodlawn High School when he signed with Robichaux who led the Ragin’ Cajuns to the College World Series two years before in 2000.

He was a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference second-team selection in 2004-05 and a first-team All-Louisiana choice in ’05.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for him,” Morgan said. “He was a great player. Always the type of guy to have his nose down and got his work done. We’re very familiar with one another from that standpoint.”

Morgan was a Ragin’ Cajun legacy with the former East Ascension High catcher following in the footsteps of his father Jamie, also a catcher for the Cajuns who caught Robichaux during his pitching career.

Morgan had the benefit of working with the pitchers who were Robichaux’s pride and joy, and the opportunities to learn the game and pitching philosophy from someone as revered as Robichaux was like gold for someone with eventual coaching aspirations.   

“You just kind of knew he was being molded into that kind of leadership role whether it was going to be high school or college,” Hawke said. “He was the kind of guy you could tell was a coach-in-waiting in a lot of ways. Just the way he approached the cerebral part of the game.”

For their first three years (Morgan redshirted in ’01) UL-Lafayette was a Sun Belt contender before putting together a magical year in ’05, winning the league and taking part in their second NCAA Regional in four years.

The Cajuns (45-17) were eliminated by Alabama at the Tulane Regional in a game Morgan, affectionally known as ‘Captain Morgan’ for his status as team captain, homered in his final game.

With their careers in Vermilion (Red) and White over, the daily messages from Robichaux began take greater hold, the kind of big-picture ideals that were far from a baseball field but landed in life’s fair territory.

“We have two different mentalities about the game, about what our strengths would be considered,” Hawke said, “but also two guys that really try to mold young men the way coach Robichaux tried to mold us as players in a bigger-than-baseball kind of mindset.”

Paying homage to a great coach, even better man

Robichaux coached another 12 years after Hawke and Morgan graduated, both of whom were named to the Sun Belt’s All-Academic list more than once during their careers.

The latter honor brought great pleasure to a well-rounded man such as Robichaux who unapologetically once said once, ‘Baseball is what I do, not who I am.’”

Robichaux, the winningest coach at both UL-Lafayette and McNeese, passed away July 3, 2019, after suffering a heart attack 11 days earlier.

He was 57.

His death reverberated through the college baseball world and sent shock waves in the Acadiana community and left his players in a pall.

“The things that coach Robichaux taught anybody that played for him resonate into being better husbands and fathers, entering the workforce in a leadership position,” Hawke said. “There are decisions I try to make where I think back to some of the ways Robe handled them.

“He was the model for what it truly meant to be a transformational coach,” Hawke said. “That’s what keeps me pushing year after year to do what I do. I love what I do, and God has blessed me to do this.”

Morgan, already five years into his coaching career at U-High, paid his former coach the ultimate compliment after his death. He switched his jersey to No. 36 – the same number Robichaux wore throughout his coaching careers at UL-Lafayette and McNeese.

“I wear 36 in coach Robe’s honor,” Morgan said. “When coach passed away it was a reminder that it wasn’t about me, it was about our kids and our program. Coach Robe was an inspiration, a role model to us and we try to bring that to our kids on a daily basis.”

Stylistically, U-High and Parkview reflect the fundamental play preferred by Robichaux.

Both teams are rooted in a grass-roots approach with Robichaux’s fingerprints all over it. They can hit for high average but are just as comfortable bunting for base hits as they are moving runners into scoring position and are aggressive on the base paths.

The Eagles and Cubs both have formidable pitching staffs, long a hallmark of Robichaux’s finest teams, with outstanding defenses.

“Whether I win a thousand games or I win two games,” Morgan said, “it doesn’t really matter if we have kids that leave our program and they’re not productive citizens, they’re not good husbands or good fathers or co-workers.”

Robichaux’s legacy was as a servant leader and a molder of men. Players that developed into a Major Leaguer were lagniappe in Robichaux’s mind, but if they became respectable fathers and husbands, and employees in the workforce, that was more indelible than any of his 1,173 wins.

Aside from their successful baseball programs, one of which will play for a state championship Friday at 5:30 p.m. against either St. Charles Catholic of Menard, Hawke and Morgan are living examples of the kind of family men Robichaux spoke at length about to his teams.

Morgan’s been married to Presley Morgan for 17 years and the couple has two sons, Grayson an 8th grader, and Graham, an 7th grader.

Hawke, who met his future wife Cindy playing professional baseball in Nebraska, has been married for nearly 10 years. They have a 7-year-old daughter Brynlee.

“I’d like to think both of us tried to model what coach Robe did for us every day,” Morgan said. “To try and do things the right way and lead a good program. Try and make it about the players first and not about winning first. Although winning’s important it’s what we are giving these kids beyond baseball. I think Phillip and I have done a great job of doing that.”