Trojan Profile: Chris Hawkins|
Dec. 23, 2016
By Andrew McKagan
The first test of will came in 2014. Chris Hawkins, then a cornerback, found himself buried on the depth chart after a mistake-ridden first four games of the season. After a redshirt freshman year in which he wasn’t yet deemed ready for playing time, the four-star high school recruit had hit rock bottom on the bench.
“There was a lot of frustration in myself. I got way too many penalties. But going through that experience helped me a lot,” said Hawkins, now a USC co-starter at free safety, in hindsight. “The coaches knew I had the range and discipline to play safety. And I bought in 100%.”
The very next year, Hawkins, from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., started all 14 games at free safety, notching 70 tackles (with a season-best eight tackles three times), two fumble recoveries (returning one 94 yards for a touchdown at Arizona State) and two interceptions. It is a true success story for both Hawkins and the USC coaching staff at the time, who turned a talented bench player into a contributor by putting him in the right position.
Hawkins’ rise is perhaps a byproduct of his personality. When asked to describe himself in one word, he answered, “Crazy, in a humorous kind of way. I can make a joke out of anything, and I think that really helps me because I can have a short memory after a bad play, so I can go back out with a fresh mindset and make a good play the next time.”
After the first four games of the 2016 season, the USC team found itself in an early hole, just as Hawkins did back in the young stages of his career. Through the first four games, the 2016 Trojans made mistakes, including penalties and turnovers. But thanks to veterans like Hawkins, who rounded out 2016 playing the best football of his career thus far, USC never gave up.
The rest, including an eight-game win streak and berth in the Rose Bowl, is history. Hawkins, who has 42 tackles this year, including four for loss, a sack and two pass breakups, credited a renewed focus and ability to ignore distractions as key in the team’s success.
“Twitter will throw you into a depression if you look at it after a loss," Hawkins said. "The only people who I listen to are my coaches and my family. Our leadership is solid. Guys like me and Hutch (senior linebacker and co-captain Michael Hutchings) are some of the louder voices out there. And everyone takes responsibility for themselves.”
Hawkins stood on a Figueroa street corner, gazing at the buildings while munching on a bowl of raw fish, vegetables, and rice. While trying exotic foods such as this Poke bowl is a passion of his, the cuisine isn’t what he was paying attention to this time. The policy, planning and development major squinted his eyes as if he was attempting to read the motions of a quarterback.
“See these buildings? My dad was a real estate agent. I want to do the same thing commercially; help people find a place to start businesses,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins seems to notice everything around him, and is one of those people who is always thinking analytically; probably a good attribute to have as one of the play-callers on defense.
Case in point: he is well-known within the walls of the John McKay Center for being an avid film watcher, someone who puts extra time every day into studying each opponent’s tendencies. In fact, his attention to detail has led many to suggest a career in coaching could also be in his future.
“I’m not the biggest, fastest, or strongest guy out there, so studying film is really important for me to get ahead. I’m often able to call out plays the offense is running and anticipate what they’re doing,” Hawkins said.
But while he has been watching film since his high school days, he also received mentorship during those rough early years by some well-known names.
“Josh Shaw really helped me take my film study to the next level. I talk to Kevon (Seymour) a lot, and he used to give me advice all the time too,” Hawkins shared.
The steady hand of veterans like Hawkins added to the explosive youth of teammates including Sam Darnold and Adoree’ Jackson has proved to be a lethal blend for the Trojans. After earning a Rose Bowl berth, this So Cal collective has pulled off what few thought was possible mere months ago. A new regime of Trojans has passed down the tradition of greatness, forging their legacy on the 2016 season.