LOS ANGELES — Rancho Cucamonga alum Chris Hawkins has gone through a transformation since enrolling at USC. As he tells it, he was "kind of fat" toward the end of last season.
After the new staff came in, Hawkins and his dad, Armond Sr., met with USC defensive backs coach, Keith Heyward, to ask what Hawkins could do to improve his chances of getting on the field in his redshirt freshman season.
"For me defensive backs have to be fast because they got to be able to run and then they got to be able to be smart and make plays," Heyward told them.
Hawkins came back improved. He was lighter, faster, and more toned.
Since the opening of USC’s training camp, Hawkins has been one of the most impressive performers.
A point of emphasis has been deep balls, and Hawkins has been excellent when it comes to defending the long ball.
During the team’s scrimmage in the Coliseum earlier this week, Hawkins picked off a Max Browne pass, demonstrating some of the skills Heyward asked for.
He’s currently in the rotation with the first team, practicing with the first-unit defense as well as the first-unit nickel. There’s a chance he could end up with a starting job by the time USC opens the season on Aug. 30 against Fresno State. Hawkins was mentioned by head coach Steve Sarkisian as one of the most improved players on the team during camp.
"In the spring, I had a chip on my shoulder because these were new coaches and I had to really prove what I can do, and now in the fall I got to stay right," Hawkins said. "I can’t stay complacent because these new guys are here."
Added Heyward: "He’s getting a ton of reps. He’s doing a great job and I’m comfortable with Chris."
As comfortable as Heyward is, he doesn’t want Hawkins falling into a comfort zone.
"I’m glad he has a chip on his shoulder and I hope he keeps that," Heyward said. "Maybe sometime in camp I may have to bump him down with the two’s just for no reason just to see how he responds and I do that just because I don’t want anybody to get comfortable with just thinking that they made it and they’re with that first group. It’s a constant level of competition with all the guys."
So far, Hawkins is competing as well as anybody in USC camp.