Former NFL standout Andrew Hawkins celebrated plenty of wins on the football field during his six-year career.

On Sunday, he celebrated in a hotel room – as a proud executive producer – when the animated short “Hair Love” captured an Academy Award.

“When you start out on something like this, you think about what the best possible scenario could be – and it’s so rare to see it come together exactly how you hope it would,” Hawkins said Sunday. “It’s just awesome.”

With the film topping a list of finalists in the animated short category, it was a win for both the 2004 Bishop McCort grad, now an NFL Network analyst, and fellow Johnstown native Mike Owens – a “Hair Love” animator.

“Suddenly, I’m watching all of my friends up there on stage ... and then my parents call, basically shouting over the phone how proud they are of me,” said Owens, 46.

“It’s kind of epic to be part of something that reached this many people,” said Owens, the son of David and Kathy Owens, of Lower Yoder Township.

“Hair Love” got plenty of love in recent weeks, generating buzz across the nation.

A seven-minute film that features an African-American father and a daughter whose hair “has a mind of its own,” “Hair Love” debuted as a children’s book that made the New York Times bestseller list before becoming a YouTube hit.

The film was written and co-directed by another former NFL player, Matthew Cherry, who said the project provided him with an opportunity to “normalize” black hair.

Owens, a 1991 Greater Johnstown grad, said he could feel “Hair Love’s” momentum building over the weekend.

“There were so many people talking about it that I started feeling like it would be a surprise if we didn’t win,” Owens said during a telephone interview from his Minnesota home.

That’s saying something, he acknowledged, given that a fellow finalist in the category is known globally just by a set of round mouse ears – Disney.

“To top them ... that’s always a good feeling,” he said. “It’s a nice reminder that you don’t have to be a gigantic studio to tell a good story.”

Hawkins credited Cherry for bringing an “authentic” story to life.

“It was Matt’s brainchild from the beginning ... and, for me, as the father of twin 4-year-old daughters, I knew right away he was telling a story that needs told,” Hawkins said.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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