When Brad Hawkins signed with Michigan in 2016, he was a wide receiver.
Instead of joining the team, he went to Suffield Academy for prep school. Upon returning to Ann Arbor, the three-star receiver was moved to safety.
Then, the coaching staff decided to try him at the viper position last fall.
Just about a year later, Hawkins is back at safety and has become an inordinate surprise to Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown.
“He’s really figuring it out,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said Wednesday, six days into fall camp. “We fooled around with him at viper, which is a good thing — get your nose dirty, you’ve got to play against the run and the pass, and you get into the blitz stuff.
“But now he’s moved back to the safety thing.”
Hawkins played in 12 games in 2017, making three kick returns for 42 yards. He added two tackles.
Ranked No. 425 in the 2017 class, No. 66 at wide receiver and No. 4 in New Jersey by 247Sports Composite out of high school, Hawkins brought pure athleticism to the field, as well as the ability to play both sides of the ball.
“The biggest piece for him, which is the most difficult — you know the old saying, ‘You’ve got to get it right?’,” Brown said. “Well, he couldn’t get it right.
“Now he’s getting right and we’re seeing that athleticism.”
Michigan returns safety starters Tyree Kinnell and Josh Metellus, along with adding Utah graduate transfer Casey Hughes. The Wolverines are likewise foreseeing sophomores J’Marick Woods and Jaylen Kelly-Powell taking a step in the right direction.
Hughes started at cornerback in 11 games for Utah but is honed in with the safeties at Michigan.
Kinnel, while at Big Ten media days on July 23, said Hawkins is the secondary member with the most buildup since last season.
“Brad Hawkins,” Kinnel said. “He actually came from the viper position. He made a big improvement playing in the spring.”
Leading the No. 1 pass defense in the nation, Brown came to the same conclusion as Kinnel about the bewilderment of Hawkins’ prosperity at safety.
“You can tell when a guy’s playing fast and doing things,” Brown said. “It usually means there’s a strong correlation between mentally playing fast in his mind, so physically he has a chance to execute at a high level. And he is.
“If you ask me, he’s probably made the biggest jump – of any of our defenders.”