East St. Louis athlete Terry Hawthorne is a playmaker. He is one of the jewels of the 2009 Illinois recruiting class, and Illini coaches are eager to use his quickness and natural football instincts on the field this season.
However, he broke his hand in the Class 7A State Championship game and reinjured it this summer. A plate was surgically implanted to stabilize the bone, and he was not healed enough to accept full contact until after two weeks at Camp Rantoul. And then, due to a season-ending injury to cornerback Miami Thomas, Hawthorne was moved from receiver to cornerback. It is hard enough to learn one college position, let alone two. He admits to some confusion.
"I am a little bit. But that all comes from being a team player. I'll do whatever."
Cornerback may allow him to see playing time earlier than receiver.
"Actually, it's not that tough. In high school, I played corner when we went up against bigger competition. So them putting me at corner is not that big a deal. It's a little bit easier out there for me. At receiver, I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff. At corner, there's less to learn."
Hawthorne has played on a couple special teams in both games this season, and he saw brief action at cornerback against ISU. Given all that has happened to him, he is pleased with his progress.
"It feels good. I'm about the only freshman that's getting a lot of reps. I only played three plays at corner. I was also on kickoffs and breakers (punt return). "
If he hadn't been injured, the 6'-1", 185 pounder believes would be seeing more playing time, but not on defense.
"If I hadn't had the hand surgery, I'd probably be playing more. That was the only thing that was holding me back. If I didn't have the hand surgery, I'd still be at receiver.
Hawthorne definitely prefers receiver, but he doesn't mind defense.
"Naw, whatever for the team."
Does the speed of the game surprise him?
"It does a little bit, but not as much because I played in the All-American Under Armor game. That gave me a heads up on how college was gonna be. So there was not that much difference."
What does he need to work on to improve his play at cornerback?
"I really just want to work on my feet more, my quickness. It's not a problem of me staying with the receivers, but I've just gotta get the technique down."
Hawthorne attended the Bridge Program this summer to prepare for college academic work. It is a rigorous program, but he doesn't feel his conditioning was set back by all the hours of class and study.
"Actually, it didn't set me back at all. I'd get up early in the morning and just run on my own, so it didn't set me back as much."
High school friend and teammate Tommie Hopkins was expected to challenge at cornerback this year, but an accidental leg injury left him with a long recovery progress. He tried to condition himself during Camp Rantoul, but he had a setback.
"He's getting a whole lot better than he was at first. He didn't have surgery when it first happened. He had the surgery last week, so he should be coming along and be ready to start practicing."
East St. Louis is a perennial powerhouse in Illinois high school circles, but it struggled against two top Ohio teams to begin the season.
"Actually, they lost the first two games. But they bounced back last weekend with a humongous win, like 81-7. I talked to my coach back home, and they were saying, 'What can they do without me?' But I'm pretty sure they're gonna bounce back and do what they gotta do."
Hawthorne is undecided on a college major.
"I'm thinking about Sports Management."