Brad Hawkins is one of the most experienced players on Michigan’s defense. A senior two-year starter who’s missed just three games since 2017, Hawkins is one of the biggest sources of continuity on a team facing so much upheaval.

In the spring, defensive coordinator Don Brown mentioned Hawkins among a select group of players he considered the leaders on the defense. Now that the Wolverines are back in Ann Arbor and have resumed practice, Hawkins has been able to fully step into that role.

“Becoming a leader on this defense, it means a lot to me,” Hawkins said on a Zoom call Friday. “I know I’m going to play a big role in the secondary and the defense period, just being a senior and being a leader and playing a lot and knowing what’s going on. That room has helped me a lot, growing as a person and as a man.”

But though Hawkins’ talent and experience isn’t in question, COVID-19 and the postponement of the Big Ten football season have left his status in flux. Like teammate Kwity Paye, Hawkins hasn’t yet made a formal decision on whether to play if a season is held this school year. Though Hawkins acknowledged that things could change quickly, he expressed a desire to play another season with Michigan.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I want to come back, I want to play another year here at the university,” he said. “Of course, there’s a lot of things that can change. But I want to come back and play with these guys, and hopefully I get that opportunity.”

One area where Hawkins’ leadership is key is with the development of sophomore safety Daxton Hill.

Hill showed promise last year, primarily as a backup safety and nickel corner as well as a gunner on special teams. He started three games at the end of the year when Hawkins went down with an undisclosed injury.

“That was a big loss to us at the end of the year,” Brown said May 22. “And it took Daxton Hill, who’s an excellent player, and put him into a role that, he had to change his role and obviously that was a very good experience for Daxton, but the overall play of our defense obviously gets impacted because you lose a player of Brad Hawkins’ stature.”

Now, instead of backing up Hawkins, Hill will likely start alongside him if there is a season. That means the two of them will work together more than ever.

Hawkins acknowledged Hill’s contributions at the end of last season and expressed confidence in their abilities as a unit.

“(Hill) got a lot bigger, a lot stronger, a lot smarter,” Hawkins said. “He’s definitely a guy to watch out for, of course. … He’s grown every single day. He’s looking real good. Both of us do a real good job of communicating with each other. I feel like we both cover really well. There’s versatility back there. Free safety, rover, it doesn’t really matter with both of us. Having him back there helps me a lot. With his athleticism and his smarts and his speed, it definitely helps a lot.”

Beyond COVID-19, uncertainty over the season and a new partner at safety, Hawkins is also working with a new position coach in Bob Shoop, whose hire was announced in January after Chris Partridge left for Ole Miss. Although Hawkins hasn’t had much time to be around Shoop in person with the cancellation of spring practice, the relationship is off to a good start, with Hawkins calling Shoop, “a great guy, great coach, even better person.”

Even amid constant flux in the football program, Hawkins is committed not only to leading a relatively young secondary, but also to proving himself both on the field and off it.

“I’ve been working very very hard this offseason, working on my craft, working on my speed, working on everything that I need to to become the best,” Hawkins said. “I definitely feel that I’m underrated. I’ve got a lot to show, and I know that I’ve got a lot to show. I’m better than I was, that I put on film. There’s a lot of things that I have to prove as a player. I’ve just got to go out there and do it at this point, that’s all it really is.”

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