The commitment was a huge one for the Commodores, which had already lined up 15 commitments but no running backs. After the graduation of starter Norval McKenzie and the untimely death over the semester break of Kwane Doster, Vanderbilt had badly needed to sign at least two running backs for the class of 2005. As a true freshman, Hawkins will have a great shot at helping fill the void left by the departed pair.
"He's got good, strong legs and good quickness. He's a very shifty runner. He makes people miss in the open field a lot, and that led to a lot of his nice gains.
"It was a real struggle, and we're glad it's over," said Hawkins' father Jeff of his son's decision. "I could tell he was very relieved once he made his decision. "SEC and Division I-A was really where he wanted to be."
As one of the stops on a whirlwind tour of college campuses, Hawkins had taken part in Vanderbilt's Top Prospects Camp last June 13, where he had impressed the coaches with his agility and his 4.47 speed in the 40-yard dash, the best time of the day for running backs. But while both parties seemed very interested, no offer was forthcoming until early January.
Vanderbilt coaches, including running backs coach Kenny Carter, made a three-hour in-home visit the first week in January, and about a week later, Hawkins received the offer he'd been waiting for.
"Jared thought about it for a week," said Jeff. "He was going to wait until the weekend of his official visit to make a commitment, but he came home from school one day and said, 'Dad, all I can think about is Vanderbilt. I felt really good when I was there this summer, and I don't want to wait until we go there. Let's do it.'
"I said, well then get up there and call them!"
Like many other prospects this time of year, Hawkins had been playing the waiting game with several schools. The earliest offer came in from Central Florida and Eastern Michigan. The local university Rice was close to offering, and Jeff feels certain the Owls would have offered if he'd waited longer. Division II Liberty University had made an elaborate pitch for the Texas running back, even offering to build its offense around Hawkins-- an offer Jeff said was "enticing."
Despite a bout with turf toe that caused him to miss a few games, Hawkins fell just short of the 1,000-yard mark for the season. On the defensive side he played cornerback and linebacker in selected situations. He earned All-Houston and All-District honors as a running back. Klein, which competes in Class 5A in Texas, finished 4-6.
Klein High School Coach Stan LaBay: "For the last two years Jared has been our top running back. He gained over 1,100 yards for us last year, and almost 1,000 this year. He was instrumental in our running game, and he's also a very good receiver coming out of the backfield.
"He had some really good ball games early in the season for us. He had a 200-yard game, a 180-yard game and a 170-yard game. His running was instrumental in keeping us in several of these ball games. In our first game against Nimitz, we were down late in the ball game, and on the last drive he broke a draw play for 40 or 45 yards down to the 10-yard line. We went in there and scored with less than a minute left to win it. Against The Woodlands he caught a 30-yard reception and broke it for a touchdown, but the play was called back on a holding infraction away from the play. But he still made some big first downs on that drive that helped us win that ball game.
"Jared missed two games this year with turf toe, and in the last game he got a severely sprained ankle and had to leave the game. He had about 160 yards in that game, when he had to come out. If not for those injuries he could have had an even better year, with probably around 1,300 or 1,400 yards.
"Jared is a really good student with high test scores. He has a very quiet demeanor, doesn't say a whole lot. But he was a great leader for our football team, because he led with his performances. Vanderbilt will get a great player, and I think he'll be very valuable to them."
Senior stats and accolades:
First-team All-District running back
161 carries, 991 yards (6.16 yards per carry), 4 TD
12 pass receptions, 140 receiving yards
164 carries, 1,116 yards, 13 TD