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‘Hawk’ to spread his wings as Eagle
SCHS standout Hawkins signs letter of intent to play at Georgia Southern
Under the illumination of the Friday night lights, high school football fans across the nation cheer from stadium bleachers as suited-up players battle on crisp green grass.
The student-athletes on those gridirons play the game with heart, but on the first Wednesday in February some of the elite ones have the opportunity to take their talents to the next level. On Feb. 3 surrounded by coaches, school staff, friends and family, Screven County High School prep standout Jermany Hawkins took a major step in football and life.
The first-team all-state Hawkins, who saw time with the Gamecocks on defense, offense and special teams, signed a letter of intent with Georgia Southern to play running back for the Eagles.
GSU had received letters of intent from 25 signees Wednesday to again rank No.1 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Eagles also announced two others who enrolled in January.
Hawkins, who was the Eagles’ lone running back signee, verbally committed to GSU in June 2015 prior to his senior year. He then recommitted on Jan. 19 to the program and the new coaching staff under Tyson Summers, the former Colorado State defensive coordinator who succeeded Willie Fritz, now at the helm at Tulane.
Although blessed with athletic talent and an evident love for the game, the road for Hawkins to sign with an FBS school that will enter its third year as a member of the Sun Belt was not without potholes and detours. Hawkins had to get himself right as an overall person.
Under the guidance of mentors who took Hawkins under their collective Gamecock wings, the SCHS senior, rated as a three-star performer by 247Sports and Rivals, now has a solid foundation. A common description from those mentors about Hawkins was he has “unlimited potential.”
“When I was in ninth grade, I was bad,” said Hawkins, who thanked school administrators, staff and coaches for their support in his academics and personal life.
A lot has changed for the good in four years for Hawkins.
“I never thought I would be talking about college and playing college ball back then,” said Hawkins, who has since made a promise to his grandmother. “I am going to go to school and make them proud.”
Mary Helen Harrison and Nancy Scott in the SCHS counselors’ office were among those who helped keep Hawkins on track in his classes.
“I thank her for that,” said Hawkins, planning to major in business. “I would like to thank all the high school staff. They took a lot of their time to help me.”
“Jermany is a very special person,” Harrison said. “I have enjoyed working with him the past three years and seeing his progress from then to now.
“He has unlimited potential and I am so excited to have the opportunity to see what he is able to accomplish over the next four years,” Harrison said. “I am so proud of him for the leader he has become on the football field. While Jermany’s athletic ability is astounding, there is also so much more to him as well. He has an infectious smile and personality to match that draws people in.”
On Fridays in the fall, Hawkins mixes that athletic ability with those beaming smiles. He celebrates with his teammates when a play in made and when he removes his Gamecock red helmet with its signature “S” on the sides, he flashes that grin.
Now it will be a Georgia Southern blue helmet on Saturdays as Hawkins wants to keep making noise and seemingly having more fun on the field than anyone else.
Hawkins was part of senior class that has two region titles and a region runner-up to its credit for SCHS head football coach Ron Duncan.
“Jermany has been a leader on the field for us almost since day 1,” said Duncan, who utilized Hawkins primarily on defense, but also worked the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder in on offense as a running back; as a kickoff return man; and a punt block specialist.
Hawkins was afforded these opportunities in vital roles for the Gamecock program because of the person he became away from the football field.
“He has worked hard to overcome a lot of adversity off the field and has really grown into a good young man,” Duncan said of Hawkins. “He has unlimited potential and we look forward to watching him grow as a man and as an athlete for Georgia Southern. I am proud of him.”
Members of the Georgia Southern coaching staff were among the two dozen schools who attended parts of spring practice in May 2015 to get a glimpse of Hawkins and the wealth of talent down through the classifications on the roster.
When Fritz opted for the head coaching job at Tulane after two seasons at GSU and a Sun Belt title, the outgoing coach took a majority of the Eagles’ staff with him to New Orleans. However, one constant who has stayed in Statesboro with Summers is Chad Lunsford, who served as the Eagles’ recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach the past two seasons, has returned to the staff for an eighth season and fourth in his current stint at Georgia Southern.
Hawkins said he has stayed in contact with Lunsford throughout the 2015 football season and the coaching staff change process.
Through it all, the Gamecock standout has maintained that GSU feels like “home” – a thought many in Screven County also can relate to as they spent their college days there and attended games in Paulson Stadium. Hawkins took an on-campus visit to meet with the coaching staff in Statesboro Friday.
Even though Hawkins has continued toward bettering himself in the classroom, he also has improved his skills on the football field to the chagrin of the opposing teams.
During Hawkins’ junior year, he claimed the Region 3AA Player of the Year honors as the Gamecocks captured the region championship. Wearing his familiar No. 1 jersey, Hawkins was a mainstay on defense and special teams and saw limited but very potent appearances on offense.
Any time Hawkins was in the game, he would be around the ball carrier for a tackle or the ball carrier himself splitting the defense for a rushing touchdown.
The most accurate way to describe Hawkins was “he only knows one speed – fast.”
When you are quick off the snap of the ball and run 40 yards in a sub-4.5 seconds, that is beneficial. But what Hawkins learned during the off season and his senior year was how to keep his body more under control on the field.
“The difference for me was I was more focused on my reads and my keys,” Hawkins said of the change from 2014 to 2015. “Last year I was just going full steam.”
What Hawkins also learned during his senior season at linebacker was that opposing offenses would run their plays toward the other side of the field.
“Everybody ran away from me,” said a smiling Hawkins, who still was second on the team in tackles with 135 -- 47 solos and 62 assists -- as the region defensive player of the year. He views 2015 to be a memorable one for him and the team. “It was a good year. It was a real good year.”
When foes chose to divert from Hawkins, other Gamecock defenders were up to the task as SCHS advanced to the second round of the Class AA playoffs, losing to eventual state champion Pace Academy.
To perform well on the field, student-athletes must put valuable time into getting stronger and Hawkins commended all those who helped provide the recent upgrades to the weight room.
“Last year the benches were pretty raggedy,” Hawkins said with a laugh. “This year it was almost like a college weight room. He (pointing in the direction of Coach Duncan) is always adding something new in there.”
And when the players are in the room, it is all work.
A visit to YouTube shows Hawkins squatting 565 pounds. There is a competitive spirit in the Gamecock weight room as the players want one-up their teammates. That isn’t easy to do when you have someone like a 273-pound sophomore defensive tackle/fullback in CJ Wright who maxes out on the bench press at 400 pounds. Currently, Wright is 31-0 on the wrestling mats in the 285-pound weight class.
“He is an outstanding player and we have others who are outstanding too,” said Hawkins, who was awarded the team MVP honors at the annual SCHS football banquet on Jan. 28.
During Hawkins junior year, he was named First Team Georgia Athletic Coaches Association All-State; and Honorable Mention Atlanta Journal Constitution All-State as the publication only selects a first team and honorable mention. He received Honorable Mention Associated Press All-State; Region 3AA Player of the Year; and Second Team All-CSRA.
In 2014, Hawkins led the team in tackles with 115 with 62 solos and 53 assists.
And then there are those impressive offensive and special team numbers.
On 21 rushes, Hawkins had 227 yards for a 10.8 per tote average and four touchdowns. He only had four kickoff returns all season, but two of them went for touchdowns.
As a senior, Hawkins was chosen First Team AJC All State; First Team AP All-State; Region 3AA Defensive Player of the Year; and First Team All-Central Savannah River Area (CSRA).
On Jan. 9, Hawkins played linebacker and special teams in the CSRA all-star Border Bowl game for high school seniors. He finished with 10 total tackles and a fumble recovery as Georgia defeated South Carolina 35-21 at Lucy C. Laney Stadium in Augusta.
For SCHS in 2015, he finished second on the team in tackles with a total of 135 and he had an interception return for a touchdown.
On offense, Hawkins had 50 rushes for 588 yards, an 11.7 per carry average, and six touchdowns.