Center of Attention

A.J. Hawkins was a guard. Now's he a center. Make that the Rebels' starting center. And he's working with four quarterbacks this spring.

The 6-foot-3, 313-pound junior from Lithonia, Ga., said he and the four signal-callers – Randall Mackey, Nathan Stanley, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti – are getting to know each other better day by day.

"Everything's been going good," Hawkins said. "We've got different quarterbacks that have come from different schemes. They're all doing pretty good as far as taking the ball from under center and getting the job done. So we're just working and progressing every day."

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt has mentioned how smooth the exchanges have been between center and quarterbacks so far this spring. Hawkins says that's good to hear, and he agrees, even though some may have felt it would take a little longer for things to go as well.

"It is maybe a surprise that from the first day, everybody was getting the snaps correctly," he said. "So now we just put a new quarterback under center, and things don't really change."

He admits there are some differences among the quarterbacks. Mackey, Stanley, Stoudt and Brunetti all bring some uniqueness to the situation.

"Different quarterbacks have different styles," Hawkins said. "Whatever it is, you have to make sure (the football) is in their hands. You can feel their hand grab your hand, and you just let it go."

The former guard, and before that tackle, said things have changed for him now that he's in the middle of the offensive line.

"I'm handling the ball," he said. "So it's a different level of responsibility at center and calling out the entire defense. When you're at guard, the center makes the call. Now I do that. I've had to adjust to that, and they've had to adjust to me some. But it's going well."

Hawkins has played tackle, guard, and now center
Bruce Newman
Hawkins said he likes being in charge of things and taking control of the situation.

"I enjoy it. I have a nice IQ for the game now," he said. "So it's about just taking care of everything and making sure everybody's on the right person. And, of course, I have to get my assignment done as well."

But he's had some experience before being the director of the offensive line. He's familiar with all positions along the front. Now, that is.

"I'd never played it before," he said of center. "In high school I played tackle. I came here and played guard. Now I'm at center. So I guess I'm just a universal guy.

"I knew I wasn't tall enough to play SEC tackle. I knew it was either guard or center. So I just bought into it, and I did what I was told."

Hawkins said he is ready for the team to continue to make good progress. Then he wants the Rebels to be able to show their fans in the Grove Bowl that this is a new day, a new season, for Ole Miss football.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "Looking forward to letting everybody know that the 4-8 is done. We've been through it. Everyone is ready to make sure that is behind us."

Since the end of "the 4-8" as he calls last season, Hawkins said it's true that the offseason was good for the Rebels. But it was tough.

"It was a lot better for me," he said. "I was able to put on some weight. I was always pretty strong, but now I have weight to go with it. So I can throw it around a little bit more inside.

"It was a lot tougher," he continued, this time talking about the offseason as compared to the prior year. "It was more challenging on the weights and things. We just rallied behind each other as teammates, and everybody got a lot better."

As for the offensive line, Hawkins agrees it's a team strength and it will prove that in 2011.

"There were a lot of guys that played last year," he said. "Some guys are still young. Some guys got thrown into the fire early. It's just going to make everyone better in the long run. The second team is always going to be pushing the first team. Someone's always getting a push from every position."

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