Michigan football’s Brad Hawkins found himself on the wrong end of a highlight-reel play Saturday night.
Just over midway through the first quarter of the Wolverines’ season opening 24-17 loss at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish ran a play-action pass from Michigan’s 43-yard line. Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush dropped back, set his feet and launched a pass into the end zone.
Hawkins was there with his hands up, ready to make a play. So was Fighting Irish receiver Chris Finke — and Finke took the ball away, completing an impressive touchdown catch and giving Notre Dame a 14-0 lead.
“I (saw) the ball in the air. I thought it was mine, but I didn’t come down with it,” Hawkins said Tuesday. “I mean, it happens. I moved onto the next play and I just continued to play the way that I know I’m capable of playing.”
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Looking back, Hawkins said he was “definitely surprised” he didn’t make the play. It was a rough start to a game that doubled essentially as Hawkins’ first start at safety. The sophomore took over early in the first quarter after junior strong safety Josh Metellus was ejected for targeting.
“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.”
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Hawkins didn’t dwell on his shaky start. Neither did the Michigan defense, which allowed three touchdowns on Notre Dame’s first four possessions. Hawkins was the Wolverines’ second-leading tackler, with six stops and one pass defended, after deflecting a screen pass that he appeared to nearly intercept.
“Really impressed with Brad Hawkins,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on his radio show Monday night. “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 second half defensively, extremely well in the second half.”
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Hawkins said it took “about two plays” to become comfortable.
“I just thought about it as, this is my opportunity,” he said. “I just went out there and did as best as I could.”
“I think he did well,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Devin Gil. “He was also a young guy that came in. But we’re all trying to get to the level where we’re above anything and everybody.”
Hawkins is one of a few relatively inexperienced players on defense who received praise this offseason. The former 4-star recruit might be in a unique position compared to some of his peers — he played mostly receiver in high school, then moved to defense when he arrived at Michigan.
Hawkins said the move was partly his decision. He had already been mulling the change dating back to his prep year spent at Suffield (Conn.) Academy. Hawkins believed his football future lay at defensive back, where he could use his size and receiving ability to his advantage.
So when defensive coordinator Don Brown asked about moving to defense, Hawkins said yes. He has spent the past year learning the nuances of the position and working to improve his man coverage skills.
Based on the small sample size available, it would appear Hawkins has some ways to go when it comes to defending the pass. Michigan needs its safeties to make plays on the ball, especially when they’re in position. But Hawkins recovered from his early mishap, and appears to be a rising player in the eyes of his head coach.
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