After moving from cornerback to safety last season redshirt junior Chris Hawkins made a significant impact on the Trojan defense. Hawkins was third on the team in tackles with 70, he intercepted two passes and he recovered two fumbles, returning one 94 yards for a touchdown.
And Hawkins did all of that on an injured ankle.
"There was a pretty big hole [in my ankle], they were saying they didn’t even realize how I was playing last year," Hawkins said after a recent summer workout. "[The problem was called] 'OCD,' I don’t know exactly what it means, but there was a hole the size of a dime in my ankle that was empty. I guess I was just chipping away at it.
"Then they told me I needed surgery, and this was in fall camp, but I knew it was a big season for me so I just decided to wait it out. I had the surgery on January 8."
This summer Hawkins has been a full participant in summer conditioning workouts and the player-run practices.
“I’m feeling good," he said. "While I’m playing I don’t feel anything, but I get sore afterwards, that just comes with it. [There was a lot of rehab] because it was only supposed to be a six week process and I was going to be back for spring ball, but when they went in there the doctor realized it was more than that. So he told me I was going to be out six months.
"I wanted to do spring because I love football, it’s my life, but I wasn’t allowed to.
"Fall camp is in a week and I’m ready, I’ve been out of football too long. I’ve never been out of football this long in my life. Now I’m ready to get back to things.”
Hawkins, like many of his teammates, is seeing a big difference in the team this summer.
“I don’t want to put down any other teams, but I feel like this is one of the best teams I’ve been on, experience-wise and leadership-wise," he said. "You know, I’m becoming one of those leaders now. I just feel like it’s a different approach for me. Usually I’m listening to all the older guys, like Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour, but now it’s my turn to step up, so that’s why I’m out here being as vocal as I can be, no matter what.
"That’s how I like to play football. I’m not one of those guys who plays flat, even if you’re my teammate, I’m going to come after you between these lines. On the sideline, then you’re back to being my friend. But between these lines it’s all business, we’re all trying to get to the NFL, and we all have to do it."
At these workouts Hawkins has proven to be one of the most vocal guys on the team. From talking trash to a receiver for not catching the ball to describing how he has been working on his run fits after tagging a running back down for a loss, Hawkins is letting everyone know what is on his mind.
"Yeah I have to [be very vocal] because I’ve got to let people know this is my defense," he said. "They know just based off play from last year and they’re going to know as soon as we get into fall camp.”
With three former five-star prospects and several other veteran four-stars, this USC secondary has the potential to be one of the strengths of the team.
“In my eyes I think we’re in the top-five secondaries in America," Hawkins said. "I can only think of maybe Florida, LSU is good, they’ve got some good players over there, Tre’davious White and Jamal Adams, Washington is good as well, but besides them I don’t see anybody really being better than us experience-wise. We’ve got Biggie [Iman Marshall], freshman All-American, Adoree Jackson projected first or second team All-American at cornerback, me, returning with my stats, Marvell Tell, Leon McQuay. We’ve got some guys who have really been in some games, and some guys that can really go. So I feel like we’re going to progress well and I feel like we’re going to be like the receivers are, one the strong suits on defense.”
There are also some lesser known players who have a chance at making a significant impact this season, starting with redshirt freshman Ykili Ross.
“[Ykili Ross] and Coach [Keith] Heyward didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye, but now that Coach Heyward is gone, Ykili gets a clean slate," Hawkins said. "I can’t wait to see what he does when it comes down to fall camp. He just had the surgery, I don’t know when he’s going to be [100 percent]. Maybe at the beginning he might be, I don’t know, but I can’t wait to see him. You know he was a guy who was doing pretty well in fall camp last year so I can’t wait to see him go.”
Redshirt sophomore Ajene Harris moved from wide receiver to cornerback in the spring and he has already shown that he can make an impact at his new position.
“I think he’s done pretty well. Ajene Harris is one of those guys, he’s just a real football player, he plays football. So no matter where you put Ajene I feel like he’s going to be good.”
“Yeah absolutely [they’re impressing me]," he said. "Pie is coming to his own. He’s a rover position because hasn’t played it really, but I think there is a lot of natural ability there. I think he has the potential to be really good.
"[Jack Jones] just has a knack for the ball. I haven’t really seen, even when I came out as a freshman to player run practices, Biggie too, we weren’t getting interceptions like that. He’s actually making plays on the ball and getting interceptions no matter who the quarterback or receiver are. It’s good to see him get his hands on the ball and I hope to see him continue that going into fall camp.”
This season has the potential to be a big on for Chris Hawkins and this entire USC secondary.
“My goal is just to show Coach Clancy that I’m his guy. I know I’m probably going to start off running with second string because I missed spring and it’s a whole new defense, so I just want to come in, head high, and show them that I’m the guy who wants to be on the field. I want to be the starter from day one, just like everybody else does, so I’m going to work hard for it and hopefully I come through with it."
Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for more updates from the final summer workout and of course wall to wall coverage of each and every practice from USC fall camp.
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