Last year, Chris Hawkins spent the entire spring recovering from offseason ankle surgery and didn't get to participate in USC's spring game or any of the practices leading up to it. He entered the summer marred in a position battle along with Leon McQuay III and Marvell Tell III at the two safety spots for a new defensive coordinator.
Flip the calendar forward a year and the redshirt senior safety has become one of the defensive leaders locked into a safety spot alongside Tell. The defense needed new leaders after the departures of stalwarts at all three levels. Gone are Stevie Tui'ikolovatu, Michael Hutchings and McQuay.
"This year, they told me from Day 1 they wanted me to be the guy that gets everybody going, be one of those leaders -- me, Cameron [Smith] and Chenna [Nwosu] to be leaders of the defense," Hawkins said. "I think we've done a great job of that. All of the guys look up to us. When they need answers, they look at us and they listen to everything that we say. I think we've got a bright future with the leaders that they've designated."
The defense returns 10 players that have started at least one game and instead of learning Clancy Pendergast's defense, the Trojans are working on mastering it.
"Last year in the spring, we were learning. It was a learning process. In the spring game, we were still learning. A lot of guys were hurt, injured. We didn't have a lot of depth, but now we're really pretty healthy," Hawkins said of the difference between last year and now. "It's another year in this defense. We're all just going to get better. You get better and better every day you work at something. I think in the summer we're really going to take it upon just the players alone and honing in on the task at hand.
Watch Chris Hawkins, above, give his top performers for the final spring practice held in the Coliseum and assess how the spring went for the defense and the defensive backs in particular.
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