Photo: Tim Brewster and CJ Hawkins; Credit: Zach Goodall
The Florida Gators' tight end position has seen a surge in talent since the new regime took over in 2018 and continues to add more skill to the group each year.
In an effort to replenish the unit with high-ceiling entities after seeing Kyle Pitts move on to the NFL, tight ends coach Tim Brewster has targeted — and earned commitments from — some of the best and potentially dominant prospects in the nation.
Of those in the mix is Berkley Prep tight end and Gators commit C.J. Hawkins, who attended this week’s Friday Night Lights event in The Swamp.
“I felt like I've played pretty well. Definitely not my best, but I loved the opportunity to come out here and go against great competition,” Hawkins told AllGators. “I felt like I definitely challenged myself with going at the best guys and just doing what I felt like I'm here to do.”
Of those guys Hawkins was able to battle against, his most interesting matchup came against fellow Gators commit — who recently shut down his recruitment — linebacker Shemar James.
“I wasn't ducking any smoke. I loved the opportunity to play against him," Hawkins said. "Obviously, he's a great player, I'm a pretty good player and we just went at it. It was definitely good getting some good reps in.”
Standing at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Hawkins is a vastly underrated tight end prospect who possesses traits athletically and physically that suggest he can be molded into a viable option in the passing game for Florida’s offense in the future.
Possessing unteachable skills and versatility — as well as a moldable frame that will be capitalized on by strength coach Nick Savage when he arrives on campus next spring or summer — Hawkins shared the aspects of his game that most intrigues coach Brewster.
“He really likes my speed, my athleticism and my juice, as he likes to call it. He likes how I just fight to catch balls.”
Coaching him up while participating on the field Friday evening, Brewster gave Hawkins a direct example of his coaching style and provided the Tampa (Fla.) native with an aspect of his game to hone in on before his senior season commences.
“Coach Brewster was really emphasizing how I need to work on just catching the ball over the top,” something that would allow him to maximize his height with more consistency. “He feels like I really got a lot better at catching the ball in front of me. So the next step is just being able to catch balls over the head.”
Still relatively new to the game itself — playing his first season in 2020 — Hawkins believes his biggest weakness is his lack of knowledge about the game, something he has strived to improve since he began lacing up his cleats.
“I have the athleticism, the body, the mindset and the physicality to do what I need to do," Hawkins proclaimed. "I just feel like I need to learn more about the game. That's what's really going to take my game to the next level.”
All in all, Hawkins had already built a positive perception about the campus and program UF has, but his first time in between the white lines in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday night enhanced those strong feelings.
“I've been here before. I felt really good. It felt like home. Just playing in The Swamp, that energy was crazy. So it was pretty fun.”
Asked about his visit schedule for the remainder of the year, Hawkins shared that he doesn’t look to travel anywhere other than Gainesville, a proper indication that his recruitment is shut down in favor of UF.
However, yet to officially visit Florida, Hawkins plans to get his first glimpse of the game-day atmosphere in The Swamp on the final weekend of the Gators' regular season when they battle FSU.