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The journey and legacy of Michigan safety Brad Hawkins

From prep school to Big Ten Champion, the fifth-year senior cemented his legacy at Michigan.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dominique Jones — better known by his stage name Lil Baby — released the triple-platinum, Billboard Chart-topping album My Turn in 2020. While 12 songs from the album spent time on the singles charts, these lyrics from the song “Heatin Up,” stood out:

I ain’t changed, I stayed the same and maintained

It’s safe to say the kid gettin’ older.

Forever gang, I’m never switchin’ over.

With tenacious lyrics like this, it is no surprise Michigan Wolverines’ senior safety Brad Hawkins is a huge fan of the Atlanta rapper. When fans think of Hawkins, two words often come to mind first: consistency and perseverance.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh echoed the same sentiments and had this to say about the senior: “Brad is a shining star who epitomizes persistence, perseverance, and consistency. He’s a great leader and tireless worker. A warrior who loves to show up everyday and compete. He is what we want our guys to aspire to be.”

Honestly, it’s hard to remember a time without Hawkins solidifying the back end of Michigan’s secondary. The New Jersey native signed his letter of intent to the Wolverines on Feb. 3, 2016, to round out Jim Harbaugh’s first complete recruiting class at Michigan. To put that in perspective, Barack Obama was still president and Wolverine offensive coordinator (and current University of Arizona head coach) Jedd Fisch recruited the three-star wide receiver to Ann Arbor.

However, due to an issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse, Hawkins was unable to enroll in 2016. Instead, the New Jersey native enrolled at the Connecticut prep school, Suffield Academy, while maintaining his long-term commitment to the Wolverines. While most would be down about the situation, Hawkins tweeted, “Another year to better myself I think I made a good decision.”

In his one year at Suffield, Hawkins caught 51 passes for 868 yards and 11 touchdowns.

On Feb. 1, 2017, Hawkins signed his second letter of itnent to the Wolverines and would finally enroll at Michigan June 20 of that same year.

As a freshman, Hawkins switched positions to safety, but would only see game action as a special teams player in 12 of the 13 games. The following year, Hawkins would get his chance at safety, but struggled in his limited playing time.

Many can remember Hawkins out of place against Notre Dame, frantically chasing receivers as he realizes his mistakes. But fortunately due to the depth at the safety position with veteran players like Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnell, the sophomore Hawkins was not heavily relied upon, and could focus on developing his skill set.

In April 2021, Hawkins discussed his struggles of switching positions and how he “never really felt comfortable” playing defensive back in his first two years at Michigan. After an entire prep career of playing receiver, Hawkins was now being asked to drive in reverse after a lifetime of exclusively driving forward. But by his third year in Ann Arbor, Hawkins was ready to back the car up.

Appearing in 11 games and starting in 10 of them, Hawkins finished sixth on the team in tackles and was named the team’s Most Improved Defensive Player of the Year. Finally comfortable at his new positional home, Hawkins entered 2020 as one of Michigan’s most experienced and seasoned defensive players.

However, due to antiquated schemes, injuries, and a plethora of cultural issues, the team and especially the defense struggled in 2020. As a unit, the team finished nationally ranked No. 84 in total defense and No. 90 in pass defense.

Coming off a disappointing season, more questions surrounded the Michigan football program than answers. Defensive coordinator Don Brown and all but one (defensive line coach Shaun Nua) defensive coach was let go. With a new coaching staff entering Schembechler Hall, some expected Hawkins to transfer or to test the waters of the NFL. Despite being in the midst of inundating uncertainty, Hawkins cited “unfinished business” and opted to return to the Wolverines for the 2021 season.

As a fifth year-senior, Hawkins was selected as an alternate team captain and would earn the highly rare fifth varsity letter at Michigan, as well as a third-team All-Big Ten selection. According to PFF, Hawkins played the most coverage snaps in the country (382) without allowing a completion of 15+ yards.

Hawkins finished fourth on the team in tackles (60) and second in forced fumbles (two). One of the forced fumbles was a signature, season-saving play in Michigan’s closest victory of the season in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Michigan had just tied the game in the fourth quarter and the Cornhuskers had the ball. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez ran a draw play on third and one and gained the first down. However, while fighting for extra yards, Hawkins ripped the ball out of Martinez’s hands, recovered the fumble and returned it inside the Nebraska 25-yard line with less than two minutes remaining.

The Wolverines would go-on to kick a field goal and win the game, 32-29.

Hawkins cemented his legacy at Michigan as one of the most consistent and durable players of the Harbaugh era. The safety stalwart leaves Michigan having appeared in 55 games and started in 30. Most importantly, he leaves Michigan as a Big Ten champion.

BET ON YOURSELF,” are the only three words listed in Hawkins’ Twitter bio and are the perfect summation of his legacy at Michigan. Hawkins bet on himself through prep school and a position change and cashed out on both. Now, with the East/West Shrine Bowl and a potential NFL future looming, it’s safe to say Hawkins is just heatin’ up.