Always a talented athlete for an offensive lineman, junior Rebel Center A.J. Hawkins just had to tweak his approach to take over his position. Read about it inside.

"He's what you are looking for," said Ole Miss Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson the first time he laid his eyes on current Rebel Center A.J. Hawkins.

Athletically, A.J. has the "it" factor. Speed, balance, quickness and size.

The ingredient that was missing, as is the case with a lot of young offensive linemen, was focus.

One play, Hawkins would be a dynamo, making Markuson jump off the ground in jubilation.

The next, Markuson would have to resort to some wordy condemnation when A.J. would take his foot off the accelerator or lose his concentration.

But a year ago, when the competition for the center position heated up with true freshman Evan Swindall, who was pushing hard for the starting job, the light went on for Hawkins and he has never looked back.

"I had to learn to focus and concentrate on every play," said Hawkins. "You can't let up and you can't let getting worn down slow you down. You have to push through it and you have to play with confidence. Confidence is a very important part of the game to me."

With the knowledge of "what it takes" to succeed on this level, Hawkins, who is on the 2011 Rimington Award Watch List for the nation's best center, had an offseason goal.

"I needed to get stronger in my legs. I wasn't able to push people around like I wanted to last year," he explained. "I am now squatting around 485 and feel like I will be able to knock people down this year more often. Hopefully, I will be a more punishing blocker this time around.

"Of course, you can always work on technique and assignment, but that's why we practice every day and rep things over and over."

A.J. Hawkins
Chuck Rounsaville
A.J. likes the look of the Rebel offensive line.

"We have ten guys who played last year back. Some played because of injury, but they still got valuable experience," Hawkins noted. "We have guys who have been through the wars so if someone gets hurt this year, we have someone with experience to put in there.

"That will help a lot with the chemistry on the OL, and chemistry is important."

Chemistry seems to be a big word in the Rebel camp this year.

Hawkins sees a different chemistry and attitude throughout the team.

"We are more together. We're a happier team. Everyone is there to pick everyone up all the time," he noted. "We are closer. That should help a lot. Once the game gets hard, we won't be scrutinizing the guy next to us, we'll just pick each other up and play.

"We're all in it together and we're going to play as one."

A.J. is also excited about the chemistry developing on the OL. He's got a new right guard - big Matt Hall - flanking him this year and he's pleased with that.

"Matt gives us more strength up the middle. Alex Washington is real strong at left guard and I have gotten stronger, so we should be able to push folks around," A.J. explained. "Matt caught on quickly in spring training. It's hard going from blocking those smaller defensive ends from the tackle position to blocking the 330-pounders on the inside, but he handled it well in spring and never though twice about it."

For a year or so, A.J. Hawkins showed a lot of potential, but he wasn't putting the whole package together.

With added focus and concentration, it seems he's got it all in place to have a banner year.

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