Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class has four members committed to this point, and would be at five if Sonny Styles didn’t re-classify to the 2022 class. Ranking as the 10th-best class in the country right now per 247Sports, there’s still plenty of time for the Buckeyes to really hit their stride when it comes to landing players. Ohio State has a track record of commitments coming in waves, so that shouldn’t change too much in this next class under Ryan Day.
One of the more surprising commitments in terms of who it was and when it happened falls in line with Cedrick Hawkins. Committing to the Buckeyes during halftime of the Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1, Hawkins wasn’t a name in the rumblings for a possible addition, and certainly wasn’t one of the targets that was discussed regularly for the 2023 cycle. Needless to say, his addition wasn’t exactly expected by the coaching staff, but surely it’s one that was welcomed with open arms.
A 6-foot, 170 pound safety out of Cocoa High School, Hawkins gave the Buckeyes their first defensive commit at the time and at a position of major importance. The 20th best player at his position for 2023, Cedrick also checks in as the 226th best player nationally and the 40th best player in Florida per the 247Sports Composite, giving him a solid four-star status.
With over 20 offers to his name and many coming from big time programs such as Florida, Florida State, Miami, Penn State, among others, Ohio State landing this caliber of player is important to their overall depth, as well as their resume when it comes to continually landing Florida natives.
Without further hesitation, let’s take a look at just a few of Hawkins’ skillsets that make him a major addition to Ohio State’s 2023 class, and why the Buckeyes are thrilled that he’s in the fold this early on.
First thing the Buckeyes need in the back end of their defense is a guy who is physical at the point of attack. Jim Knowles coming in to run this new style of defense places a serious emphasis on safety play, and though the guys in these spots will have different roles, the physicality aspect can’t change regardless of who is lining up. Whether it’s coming down hill in the run game or in coverage, an elite safety isn’t afraid to hit. Hawkins has that ability, and shows in his film that he’s not shy to lower the shoulder a bit.
In this clip, it may be hard to tell, but Hawkins is lined up as the lone deep safety for his prep team, Cocoa. What makes this play so impressive is of course the actual hit to break up the pass attempt, but also how well Hawkins reads the concept in the back end. Slowed down, it’s seen that the quarterback locks on to his receiver in the middle of the field, allowing Hawkins to clearly read it well enough to be in the right position. The break on the ball is perfectly timed, and the result is — for lack of a better word — physical.
Having this type of mentality at the safety position is critical for a nasty, high-flying defense, and plays like this show how well Hawkins can fit right in.
Run Game Support
Going hand in hand with physicality, Ohio State wants to recruit safeties who can help in the run game. Especially in a run-heavy Big Ten conference, it just makes sense for the Buckeyes to bring in players that are used to playing closer to the line of scrimmage and in the box in heavier defensive alignments. In addition, guys Knowles will bring to Columbus have to show the ability of coming downhill quickly in run support, whether it’s in closer to the linebackers or in space coming from a true safety alignment on the field.
In Hawkins’ film, there’s arguably more clips of him in run support than in pass coverage, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. In many cases, Hawkins is of course lining up as a true deep safety, but he possesses the ability to line up in multiple spots that prove he not only can play in space, but also reacts well to what an offense is trying to run.
As mentioned, he’s not the biggest guy at only 170 pounds right now, but knowing what Ohio State’s strength program can do for him, it’s exciting to pair the idea of what he can become with how willing he is to come downhill hard and chase a runner down all over the field.
In this clip below, Hawkins does a really nice job of reacting to what the offense is doing. Whether it’s simply seeing the quarterback or reading his keys of pulling guards on the play, Cedrick identifies run right away. His burst to the ball leads him directly to the ball carrier and you see him make the play. Not a devastating hit on the running back, it’s still plenty enough to get the job done and save his defense from giving up a big play. The running back wasn’t hurt by space either, as it shows he had room to make a cut and get loose, but the run support offered by Hawkins in the back end ruined any chance of that.
Another example. Below Hawkins is again coming from his deep safety position as the ball carrier easily gets to the second level of the defense. Offering further help, Hawkins is able to make the play that at least for the time being saves a first down. More importantly, it’s just further confirmation that Hawkins has healthy habits and knows that regardless of the play, he’s looking to contribute and pursue the ball.
A kick and punt returner for his prep team, Hawkins is no stranger to having the ball in his hands, but on the defensive side of the ball, he’s got exactly what it takes to thrive at the next level as a coverage safety. A player that not only shines for Cocoa, Cedrick also competes for one of the top 7-on-7 clubs in the country, South Florida Express. From his experiences in both avenues, in addition to going against some of the top talent in the country thanks to his off-season work, Hawkins and the “ball-hawk” term fit pretty well.
It jumps right at you from his film in terms of his nose for the ball, and really, since Malik Hooker played for Ohio State, the Buckeyes really haven’t seen a true ball-hawk type of playmaker in the secondary. Not that just anyone could match up to Hooker and his incredible talent, but Hawkins is no slouch of his own.
In this clip below, you right away get the gist of his range and knowledge of getting in front of the receiver for the turnover. It’s talked about all of the time by coaches that range is a quality they covet from their defenders. The ability to read the play, break on the ball, but also have the mental wherewithal to actually get to where the play can be made are all major traits of an elite level safety, and Hawkins looks to meet the criteria pretty well with still his senior season yet to play.
You could go on and on with Hawkins and the many attributes that qualify him as a top safety target, and probably an underrated one truth be told. The Buckeyes know there’s more development needed from the 2023 commit, but a full year to grow physically gives tons of promise for what he can be once in Columbus.
Portraying the abilities to be physical and a be a legitimate force both in the run game as well as in coverage is all you want in the last level of the defense. To see more of what Cedrick can do, use his junior season film below to get a better idea of all he brings to the table defensively.