The Wolverine

October 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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34 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2018 BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan safety Brad Hawkins' prep school film had U-M fans buzzing, for all the right rea- sons. Many of the clips were of him playing wide receiver, where the four- star recruit was hauling in passes over defenders with regularity and seem- ingly always in the right position to make plays. That's why many were stunned when Hawkins was on the wrong end of a big play in a 24-17 loss to Notre Dame. The sophomore was in a perfect spot to make a play on a first- quarter bomb from Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush, had the inside position and seemed primed for a big pick. Instead, smaller Notre Dame re- ceiver Chris Finke went over him and snatched it away for a touchdown that made it 14-0 Irish. Days later, Hawkins admitted he was as confused as anybody as to why he didn't make the play. "I saw the ball in the air. I thought it was mine, but I didn't come down with it," he said. "I mean, it happens. I moved on to the next play, and I just continued to play the way that I know I'm capable of playing." He had no choice. Junior starter Josh Metellus had been ejected for targeting only a few plays earlier, and Hawkins had earned the right to re- place him with what safeties coach Chris Partridge called an "incredible" fall camp. Hawkins said it took him about two plays to shake off the nerves when his number was called. "I just knew I was the next guy up," Hawkins said. "I had to come in and I had to perform in a way that everybody knows I can. "… I wasn't really nervous. I was very confident in myself. I knew if I just came out there and did my job, everything would fall in place. … I just thought about it as, 'This is my opportunity.' I just went out there and did the best I could." Hawkins responded with a career- high six tackles against the Irish, and he read and nearly picked off a screen pass. His teammates told him on the sidelines to keep his head up and keep going after his disappointing play, and he responded. "I was really impressed with Brad Hawkins," Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said on his Monday night radio show after the loss. "He had the tough play in the end zone where he was in position to make a play and their receiver came over the top and caught a touchdown. He kind of doubted himself after that. "But Brad played a really good sec- ond half defensively … extremely well in the second half." Hawkins arrived at Michigan with a tough decision to make — whether to stay and compete in a crowded wide receiver room with a young and tal- ented group of pass catchers, or give defense a shot. There wasn't nearly as much depth at safety, and he figured his best bet at making a career out of football beyond college might come on the defensive side of the ball. He approached defensive coordina- tor Don Brown when he first got to town to discuss his options. Brown was more than happy to give him a shot, and he started tinkering to see where Hawkins might best fit. The 6-2, 213-pounder started work- ing at viper linebacker, the position manned by Jabrill Peppers in 2016 and Khaleke Hudson the last two years and coached by Partridge. Partridge brought Hawkins to safety with him when he made the move from coach- ing linebackers, and the relationship has benefited both. "I really know him and what but- tons to push for him and things like that," Partridge said during the last weeks of fall camp. "I know what he needs and doesn't need. For me, [the continuity makes it] better. I'd think he'd probably admit that the continu- ity is helping him. "He's a great kid and really wants to be great. He's been really good, and really good on special teams, too." Hawkins' performance was one of the pleasant surprises of the whole camp, Partridge added. "He's really, really stepped up and done some things and gotten [better]. He's gone above expectations for me," the coach said. "I think he's another guy that has a bright future, that loves playing the game, and is really in tune and is really good. You'll see him on the field for sure." That's already come to fruition. In that sense, Hawkins said, he's ex- ceeded his own expectations, too. "I thought I was going to be bad at covering," Hawkins said he recalled thinking after making the move to defense. "Coming into this system, you're playing man. I'd never really covered anybody in my life, honestly." "Coach [Devin] Bush [Sr.] helped me a lot with my covering. Just with him playing in the league, he has a lot of experience. He's a winner. He has a national championship; he has a Super Bowl. Having that type of mind in the safety room with you is definitely a help." He's still got work to do in order to be the kind of player he wants to be. But he's on the right track, more con- fident than ever that he's right where he needs to be. ❏ UP AND COMER Sophomore Safety Brad Hawkins Has Been One Of The Defense's Most Pleasant Surprises Through three games, Hawkins ranked sixth on the team with 11 tackles. He also added 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass broken up. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN Hawkins on replacing ejected teammate Josh Metellus in the season opener "I just knew I was the next guy up. I had to come in and I had to perform in a way that everybody knows I can."

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