Starting in the place of 13-game starter Brandon Maye, who was limited because of an injury, Hawkins racked up seven tackles in 40 snaps at middle linebacker in Clemson's 21-13 win over Kentucky.
"As a man, in life you have to take advantage of your opportunities. I made sure that I took advantage of my opportunity in any way possible," he told CUTigers.
Hawkins hasn't looked back either. He entered and left spring practice as the starter at middle linebacker.
Now, less than a month before the start of camp, Hawkins doesn't appear to be letting his foot off the gas.
"In this business, you can never get complacent," he said. "No matter how long you've been starting, no matter what the situation is. Somebody out there is working harder than you, whether they're on your team, the next city, the next state—wherever. Somebody is out there working harder than you. Somebody is watching Clemson football saying, ‘I want to go to Clemson and be the starting middle linebacker.'
"They're working towards getting to where I'm at. I can't take a day off. I can't fall back."
Talk about seizing the moment.
Hawkins picked up that mindset and adapted it to suit his personal endeavors long before he was pressed into action against the Wildcats. He attributes the professional mentality to one of his all-time favorite linebackers.
"It's a mixture of me and what Ray Lewis always says," Hawkins said. "In this business, you've got to stay at it every day. You can't take a day off. If you do, then you've lost. I try to live by that, but I've put my own twist in that."
It all started 10 years ago during Super Bowl XXXV when Lewis had 11 tackles, six assists and broke up four passes on his way to being named Super Bowl MVP.
"I remember watching that Super Bowl and not knowing who that guy was. And I was like, that guy's good," Hawkins said.
10 years later he's still watching.
"Now, I'm trying to mock him. Most all linebackers look at Ray, try to channel their game and channel their character like Ray Lewis. It's nothing new," Hawkins said.
While he channels his inner-Ray Lewis, Hawkins is always sure to do one thing: have fun.
"That was the most important thing for me, to have fun. Everything else will happen for itself. When you're a true competitor, your natural athletic ability and your instincts, everything else will take over," he said. "The most important thing, in practice, workouts—whatever—you've got to have fun."
On that cold, late December night in Nashville, Hawkins assured himself that he would do just that.
"I told myself before the game, ‘Regardless of whether I mess up every play, don't make any tackles or don't do anything right. I'm going to get one thing right. I'm going to have fun.' Everybody can't say they've had that opportunity," he said.
In less than two months, Hawkins brings the excitement he felt at L.P. Field to Death Valley.
"Everybody wants to be the reason why you won or the reason why you're winning. That's probably the most exciting part," he said. "Second most exciting part is being able to hit, just bringing the pain every Saturday or Thursday and that crowd in Death Valley is going, ‘Oooooh.'"
Hawkins channeling inner-Ray Lewis
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