Josh Hawkins never doubted that he would one day play big-time college football. The former Glenn standout decided to go to East Carolina, even though the Pirates did not offer him a scholarship.
As a walk-on, Hawkins impressed the coaching staff with his stellar play as a member of ECU’s scout team. The Pirates signed him and now he’s locked in a fierce battle for one of the team’s starting positions at cornerback.
Hawkins, a 5-feet-10, 183 pounds sophomore, is looking to build on last season. As a redshirt freshman, he played in 12 games, which included three starts (vs. Southern Mississippi, North Carolina and University of Texas-El Paso). Hawkins finished the season with 13 tackles, 1 interception and three pass break-ups.
The first interception of Hawkins’ college career just happened to be his first college start, which was ECU’s Conference USA opener against Southern Mississippi.
“That was an exciting moment,” said Hawkins, who graduated from Glenn in 2011. “This year, I’m expecting to do more of the same. It’s all about making the most of the opportunities when they present themselves. Wherever the ball is, that’s where I want to be. As for the preseason, things are going real well. I’m bigger, quicker and better than I was last year.”
According to preseason reports, the battle at cornerback involving Hawkins and Detric Allen may not be settled until the week of East Carolina’s season opener against Old Dominion on Aug. 31. During spring drills, Allen held a slight edge. For now, Allen is listed as the starter on the Pirates depth chart with Hawkins being a close second.
“Competition never hurt anybody,” Hawkins said. “It keeps me working, keeps me pushing. We go at it in practice, but when it’s game time, we’re all pulling for each other. But I do feel confident that if I get a starting position that I’m not giving it back.”
East Carolina figures to be a prime factor in the race for this year’s Conference USA title. But in order for the Pirates to deliver a championship season, the defense, especially against the pass, must improve immensely. A year ago, East Carolina finished up at 8-5, primarily because of its high-scoring offense (31.5 points per game). The defense, however, struggled and surrendered 31.6 points per game.
Hawkins believes that with new defensive coordinator Rick Smith on board and with a new mindset among his teammates, the defense is primed to make giant strides in 2013.
“The defensive line will hold it down,” he said, “and the secondary will do its part. We’re looking to get the job done this season.”
In reflecting on his days with East Carolina’s scout team, Hawkins acknowledges that being a walk-on gave him a clear picture of the effort and dedication it takes to play at the major-college level.
“When you’re a walk-on, you find out that there’s so much work to do in order to get to where you want to be,” he said. “You’re fighting for a spot on the team and at the same time, you’re fighting for respect, to prove that you belong. Going through that experience made me tougher and smarter.”