Standing less than 6-feet tall, he understands the qualities needed to make up for his physical short-coming.
After the second spring practice session, Hawkins said he continues looking to improve his strength, speed, quickness and technique.
"Me, being a quote-un-quote short line backer, you've got to bring something to the table, as far as being physical," he said. "I have to be very physical when I'm taking on those big linemen."
Up to 235 and noticeably thicker, Hawkins entered spring practice as the co-starter at both middle- and strong-side linebacker with Brandon Maye, who's still nursing a stress-fracture that kept him out of the Music City Bowl.
Hawkins was pressed into meaningful duty at middle linebacker for Maye in the bowl game.
With fewer than 100 snaps to his name heading into the Music City Bowl, Hawkins played 40 against the Wildcats and registered seven tackles in the Tigers' 21-13 win.
"I knew I had to step up big-time for us and make sure I called the defense the correct way, and help us win a football game, which I did," he said. "I had a lot of fun out there. I enjoyed it. I'm glad I was a part of the first bowl win here in a long time. That was very exciting for me. It just created more momentum for me into the offseason for training."
Had Hawkins be asked to play middle linebacker and relay the calls from defensive coordinator Kevin Steele in a similar situation earlier in the 2009 season, Hawkins is comfortable admitting that he wouldn't have been as comfortable as he was in Nashville.
Thanks to a lot of repetitions at practice and plenty of study off the field, quarterbacking the defense wasn't so hard on that blustery December night.
"It got second-nature to me. By the time I got to the game, I wasn't nervous at all," Hawkins said.
As freshman, he played 119 snaps in 12 games, making 19 tackles and two sacks. Prior to the bowl game, most of his snaps came late in three games that had lopsided scores in Clemson's favor. He played 14 against N.C. State, 24 against Coastal Carolina and 17 versus Wake Forest.
"I just want to be on the field. Something that gives me the opportunity to make plays and lead this team to a championship," Hawkins said.
Stepping up his game
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