As most of us can probably relate to, losing a loved one is never easy. Many times, the passing of a family member or close friend is followed by missing work, dropping plans and even going into hiding as the sorrow engulfs us. For many athletes (both amateur and professional), though, they decide to greet sorrow and despair in a different way.
That’s exactly the case for USC safety and senior captain Chris Hawkins.
The night before the Trojans met with the Stanford Cardinal in the 2017 Pac-12 Championship game, Hawkins received some horrible news. His grandmother had passed away following her battle with breast cancer, leaving a gaping hole in his family and heart. It would be perfectly understandable for any human being to simply call his coach, tell him the news and wish the team luck. Hawkins, however, met heartbreak with open arms, embraced it, and gave it a ticket to the game.
That decision worked out rather well for the Trojans. Not only did USC walk away with the Pac-12 crown, but it watched Hawkins have a career game. The senior safety flew around the field all night long, racking up a career-high 13 tackles and earning the game ball from head coach Clay Helton.
Check out the video below:
Hours after the passing of his beloved grandma, USC senior captain @CHawk_4 put together a signature performance, making a career-high 13 tackles in the Pac-12 Championship Game. #FightOn pic.twitter.com/YUH5wQNxhn
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) December 2, 2017
Hawkins also received a shoutout from Gavin Morris, USC’s Director of Player Development:
— gavin morris (@DaGman7) December 2, 2017
Here’s even more insight into Hawkins’ highlight-laden performance while carrying a heavy heart, courtesy of USCFootball.com’s Keely Eure:
Chris Hawkins spent extra time by himself before the game and reveals to us that he was thinking of his grandma. She passed away last night after losing her battle to breast cancer… Chris Hawkins says this was the first football game of his career that she wasn’t watching, ‘She was watching me from above.’ He had tears in his eyes. It was just a remarkable moment to see one of the captains of this team put on a performance like he did, and lead the team like he did, when he’s dealing with a lot emotionally.
The mental toughness, dedication to his team and teammates, and overall perseverance No. 4 displayed is world class. There simply is no easy way to receive such heartbreaking news, and then go out and put on the performance of a lifetime. Whether it was his love for his grandma, the game, the Trojans or a little of each, Hawkins found the inner strength to power through and make her proud.
Now, it could end up proving to be a very fruitful outing for Hawkins.
Considered by many a mid-round talent in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, Hawkins’ play during the Pac-12 Championship has turned some heads. In fact, with the way he helped shut down Stanford running back Bryce Love, a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, it appears he’s convinced a few folks he belongs in the first-round conversation.
Take former NFL great Eric Allen, for example:
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) December 2, 2017
Hawkins, a Rancho Cucamonga native, has been an excellent piece of the Trojans secondary for the last four years. During those four seasons, he amassed 227 total tackles, four interceptions, four sacks, three forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and one touchdown. This 13-tackle performance against the Cardinal marked arguably his top performance at USC, proving to be perfect timing both from emotional and draft-stock standpoints. It also showed NFL scouts that he’s more than capable of stepping up and overcoming adversity when the pressure is on.
Here’s more context from the Los Angeles Times’ Zach Helfand:
Hawkins proceeded to have arguably the best game of his career. He led USC with 13 tackles, more than twice the number of the next closest player. Two were for losses. He had one forced fumble. During USC’s goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, he may have prevented a touchdown when he came around the backside of Stanford’s line to tackle Bryce Love in the backfield.
With that trying day now behind him, Hawkins can celebrate with his teammates, mourn with his family and remember fondly the impact his grandma had on his life. It’s a gut wrenching experience for one of USC’s top defenders, but the extra passion Hawkins played with on Friday may just have been enough to carve out an even more promising NFL future for the young safety.
“Death, like so much in life, is a lesson, which must be understood and cherished, not feared; it is a rite of passage we all must encounter at one time or another; it helps build our character and makes us stronger if we can endure its painful aftermath.” – Imania Margria