Young linebackers emerging

CLEMSON - Corico Hawkins struggled to pick up on the speed of the game during camp - just one of the many adjustments for any freshman making the jump into college football from the prep ranks.

In his first three games this year (14 snaps), Hawkins had yet to record a tackle. But as of late, things have slowed down considerably. In 17 snaps in Clemson's 38-3 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, he recorded his first two career stops.

Hawkins was also on the field for the Tiger's goal line stand, keeping the Demon Deacons out of the end zone, and having to settle for a field goal.

"The crowd is there right behind you and getting loud, everybody thinks they're about to score and my number had been called," he said. "It was very exciting to go in there and be a part of that stand."

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said he won't substitute someone with the game on the line unless he's confident they'll be able execute.

"(Hawkins) has earned the right to play and has the ability to do so," Steele said. "He understands what we're doing."

Like Hawkins, Jonathan Willard's presence on defense was limited before Saturday. His main contribution this year: a tackle for loss against Boston College.

"He's a young guy that runs around and is very physical. He comes to work everyday and just happens to play behind a guy that we don't need to have off the field, but he's a good player," Steele said.

In 12 snaps against Wake Forest, Willard had three tackles, including one for loss.

"I feel like every time I get on the field I have a chance to make a play," he said.

Backing Kavell Conner at WILL linebacker, Willard said Conner has been a big help.

"We just kind of go over stuff. Before my series when I went in, he talked to me and told me things that are going on, on the field," Willard said.

When Conner graduates after this year, Willard realizes the WILL spot is likely his to lose.

"I'm just trying to get the game and the feel of everything--how things go," Willard said.

Hawkins backs Brandon Maye at the MIKE linebacker spot. They're always talking what to look out for when on the field and how to prepare off of it.

"Brandon has really helped my game to really help me become a student of the game of football…being able to be a film rat and beat your opponent mentally," Hawkins said. Although Maye will be NFL draft-eligible this year, he's still got two years of eligibility left at Clemson.

What many considered to be an issue at the beginning of this year - depth at linebacker - is evolving into a position with young guys who've gained some experience.

Hawkins gushes when talking about what the future has in store for he and Willard.

"We're the future," Hawkins said. "This is our program. We've got to step in and learn from those guys. When our number is called, we have to show up. We have to let them know the future won't be shaky. The future is stable at linebacker." Top Stories