Michigan's coaching staff didn't know what to do with Brandin Hawthorne when he arrived for the 2009 season. And they didn't know where he best fit in 2010 either. This coaching staff was a little uncertain at first, but eventually moved Hawthorne to the weakside linebacker post, and he has, seemingly, found his home ...
"I was actually recruited as a linebacker so to be back feels really natural to me," said Hawthorne. "This is the position I played my whole life until I got to Michigan so it's nothing new, but I've had to learn the system, my responsibilities, and that takes time."
Hawthorne was one of seven early enrollees in Jan. 2009 and was one of eight Floridians that signed with the Maize and Blue that February. Though he was only a three-star recruit, Hawthorne had made 200 tackles in his career at Pahokee, with 76 tackles for loss and 42 sacks, and the expectation was that he would develop into a 220-pound SEC-type linebacker - the ones with great speed, quickness and athleticism that the Big Ten supposedly lacks.
Hawthorne struggled to put on weight though and after an uneventful rookie campaign, in which he saw action in just four games, all on special teams, he moved to safety for the 2010 season. However, Hawthorne wasn't a safety. He wasn't fast enough and didn't have the coverage skills. He felt lost.
He appeared in nine games, but only one in a defensive role. He began spring practice someone that nobody was talking about and without an identifiable role. He ended the spring with greater direction and a message - gain weight.
Hawthorne weighed 205 pounds in the spring. He weighs 214 pounds today and though he's not gigantic, he's big enough to handle his tasks at the weakside linebacker position.
"I'm not a real physical player - I'm more finesse - but I'm fast and smart," he said. "You need a brain on defense and I'm smart enough to recognize formations, and help move guys around. And I think I'm pretty good at making plays. I know I'm not going to overpower someone but I'm pretty good at slipping through the cracks."
Hawthorne is in the midst of a three-man tussle to start at the WILL, battling with fifth-year senior Brandon Herron and redshirt sophomore Mike Jones. At Tuesday's media-attended practice, he played with the first unit in the abbreviated time reporters watched the ones vs. ones.
There is still a long time before game week, and the coaching staff likes Jones and Herron also, but Hawthorne is at least in the mix.
"I am very excited, but I'm taking it one day at a time, and just trying to do my best day after day, be consistent like the coaches keep telling us we need to be," he said.
"Whatever happens, happens. I'm just glad to be back at linebacker and playing a position that I feel really comfortable with."