The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 111 "A lot of guys are very familiar with Dax — he's very fast and physical," Hawkins said. "He's somebody who helps in the cov- erage piece. He's a guy who can fill the role of covering the slot in our defense." Hawkins wants all his bases covered dur- ing his last season. He's refused to even consider not seeing one go forward, even when the talk leaned that way. He spent the spring and early summer back in New Jersey, working in a local gym, carrying out his regular exercise routine. He lifted, worked with a personal trainer and pointed with supreme focus toward a season he knew had to be coming. "I'm doing everything I can do be the best player I can and take my game to the next level," he said. "In my head, there's going to be a season. I try not to think about the negativity of not having a season. "This is my last year. I've really got a lot to show. Not having a season would definitely hurt. Not playing in front of fans, I don't even know how that would go. That's never hap- pened before. Especially with the fan base we have, they rally behind us and help us along." Hawkins said he is more than ready for the season he knows will come. The lead-up to it has gone quickly, he admitted. "I remember when I was just a freshman, looking up to Josh and Tyree Kinnel," he recalled. "Now I'm the senior and I'm the leader. That's crazy." Plenty has happened over the course of three years, he noted, including shedding the wide receiver gloves and going all in on defense. "I started to get more comfortable out there, not thinking too much, just playing the way Brad plays football," he said. "Over the years, I've progressed, I've put weight on, grew a couple of inches, I got more physical. Those things definitely played a part." Now he wants to play a part on a champi- onship team. He doesn't care if anybody else believes it will happen. He sees the preseason prognostications that insist the mountain is too big and that the Wolverines will settle in a rung or two down from the top of the ladder. He rejects that notion like he's swatting down a Hail Mary toss at the end of a rivalry game. Hawkins knows what the cynics are putting out there. He's not listening. "This is going to be one of the best Michi- gan football teams," Hawkins insisted. "Ev- erybody has a chip on their shoulder. Every- body's mindset is different. You can just tell, by the way we came into winter workouts, before all the COVID-19 stuff, everybody is laser focused. "Everybody bought in. Everybody's buy- ing in. This year is definitely going to be that year." ❑ New Jersey Has Produced A Bumper Crop Of Recent Wolverines Jim Harbaugh's team will once again benefit from considerable talent out of New Jersey, such as senior safety Brad Hawkins. That's been the case throughout Harbaugh's tenure at Michigan. It began with Jabrill Peppers, the eventual Heisman Trophy finalist out of East Orange, whom Harbaugh inherited from Brady Hoke's staff. Moorestown, N.J., native Jon Runyan Jr. — an eventual All-Big Ten offensive tackle — entered as a freshman for that 2015 season. That roster also featured eventual starting offensive tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, from Paramus. Harbaugh's crew definitely kept the New Jersey pipeline open, including these major contributors: • Rashan Gary, the consensus No. 1 prep defensive end in the class of 2016, who started two years at Michi - gan before departing for the NFL and the Green Bay Packers. The Plainfield native earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches in his final two campaigns at Michigan. • Michael Dwumfour, a defensive tackle from Scotch Plains who appeared in 34 Michigan games with four starts, prior to his transfer back home to Rutgers for a final season. • Hawkins, from Camden, who has played in 37 games with 10 starts heading into his senior season this fall. • Cesar Ruiz, also out of Camden — though he attended IMG Academy in Florida — who performed at Michi - gan for three years, the past two as the Wolverines' starting center. He left a year of eligibility on the table to enter the NFL Draft last spring and was rewarded as a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. The New Jersey influx slowed a bit over the past couple of years, but Michigan certainly hasn't finished its work in the Garden State. That's reflected in the U-M recruiting class signed last winter. That crew includes Aaron Lewis, a defensive end out of Williamstown; Jordan Morant, a safety from Parsip - pany; and RJ Moten, another safety, this one out of Delran. As of mid-June, despite its overall strong recruiting showing in the Northeast, Michigan features only one commitment thus far from the state of New Jersey. Dominick Giudice, a 6-4, 262-pound defensive end out of New Monmouth, gave his verbal commitment to the Wolverines back in March. Though rated as a two-star recruit, he was one of the state's leaders with 43 tackles for loss and 24 sacks a year ago. Those players will continue a tradition of Michigan players coming out of the East, a pipeline that ramped up considerably with the arrival of Peppers. Hawkins and others intend to also extend the list of Wolverines out of New Jersey making it to the NFL. — John Borton Former No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary has led the recent parade of Wolverines from New Jersey, a group that also included fellow highly touted recruits like Jabrill Peppers, Brad Hawkins and Cesar Ruiz, who were all listed as four-star prospects or better. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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