USC's secondary is chock full of talent, and the coaches in Troy have been waiting for the next athlete to step up and assert himself as a playmaker. Through four weeks of spring ball, redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Hawkins has risen to the occasion.
With new secondary coach Keith Heyward having an objective eye for his stock, essentially every healthy athlete in the defensive backs corps has had equal opportunity to impress. That's especially important for the corner spot opposite Josh Shaw, which will likely be filled by way of competition. So far, Hawkins is proving that he's ready to live up to his highly touted status out of high school.
And this year, the coaches are definitely paying attention.
"He made a play," Heyward told FoxSports.com's Rahshaun Haylock after Saturday's scrimmage, referring to an interception the cornerback made. "I'm trying to find playmakers."
Hawkins came into USC as a 4-star talent, but by no choice of his own, he ended up watching the 2013 season from the sidelines instead of participating.
When Anthony Brown got injured before USC's game against Hawaii, Hawkins thought he was going to be chosen to replace Brown. Instead, former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast called on Devian Shelton, and Hawkins knew then that the decision to redshirt had been made for him.
As fate would have it, Shelton only appeared in that one game for USC (due to injury, further depleting the number of available, healthy bodies) and has yet to make any significant contributions since.
The old regime may have overlooked his immediate value to the team, but Hawkins is making sure to avoid a similar outcome this spring. So far, it seems to be working.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox sung the cornerback's praises after Saturday's scrimmage:
Because he's performing so well, Hawkins could a legitimate threat to dethrone Kevon Seymour, who really improved and impressed during the second half of the 2013 season. He's currently getting reps with the first-team defense in place of Shaw, but once he returns injury, Hawksins could see his role change. He has the pedigree to be a regular starter and a desire to prove that he can live up to the reputation with which he came to USC.
Hawkins elaborated to Haylock about what his goals are for the spring:
I made it a point to send a message on the first day (of spring practice) that this is not the 17-year-old kid anymore. This isn't the young one, the little one. I'm still a pup but I wanted to make it clear...I'm here and I'm here to stay.
During next week's spring game, Hawkins will really have his time to shine. It will be in his best interest to leave a lasting impression on the coaches, as the competition during the fall is only going to intensify when USC's loaded 2014 signing class arrives on campus. After all, 5-star DB/WR Adoree' Jackson is coming, and he won't be denied.
Hawkins needs to use these remaining spring practices to show that he has star quality and to prove that the secondary needs him to be successful.