BWI caught up with four-star defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins to talk about the ins and outs of his recruitment, plus what to expect moving forward.
Ryan Snyder: For awhile, it felt like Cincinnati was the team to beat. Was that legit? Take me through the last few months of your recruitment. Was this as close as it appeared?
Aeneas Hawkins: For awhile, it was Cincinnati. I like their coaches a lot. Also, probably the main thing was that I knew a lot of their commits really well, being from Cincinnati. Also, with my parents going there, I knew the campus really well. I shot my video about two week before I officially committed, but up until that point, it was down to the wire. That’s why I kept pushing my commitment date back. I was still going back and forth between the two schools. But once I sat back and really looked at things, I felt like Penn State was the best option.
Snyder: What were maybe two or three things that set Penn State apart then?
Hawkins: One of the biggest things with Penn State was the level of competition. Obviously, I’m close with the coaches. I’m comfortable with them, but at the same time, if I don’t come in and put in the work I’m supposed to do, plus put in a little extra, it’s going to be tough for me to be a special player there. So, that was important. I wanted to maximize the kind of player I can be and I felt like Penn State would’ve allowed me to do that. At Penn State, that’s not going to be an issue at all. If you just look at my class, we have a handful of really good defensive lineman that can come in and excel at defensive end or tackle. The competition is going to be really high.
So, that was probably the first thing, but also, if you look at the school itself, Penn State is unmatched in a lot of ways. They’re second to not very many. The alumni base is incredible. I’m not sure if I want to get into broadcasting yet, but that’s definitely something I’m interested in. I feel like Penn State will allow me to explore my options. They’ll allow me to look at the media side of things, but at the same time, keep my options open.
Those were really the two biggest things for me, but I’d say the third thing then was playing in the Big Ten. Going against schools like Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Those type of competitors make sure that you’re going against the best every week. They’ll make sure that you know where you’re at in your development. That was a big part of this, too.
Snyder: I know you suffered an injury during preseason. Where are you at with your recovery right now? You’ll be back at some point this season, right?
Hawkins: I have a stress fracture in my foot that I’ve actually had for awhile now. I didn’t realize it because it wasn’t very painful. I didn’t really know about it at all. If I would’ve known about it, I would’ve allowed it to heal a long time ago. I ended up going to get it checked out then and it’s just a minor injury. I have to stay out for a couple weeks and do some rehab and then I’ll be fine. I could’ve played through it, but after talking to my high school coach, we all decided that it would be best for me to get back to 100 percent. We feel as if there will be more important games for us down the road towards the end of the season and into the playoffs. Obviously, I have a career to look out for after high school ball, too. So, it was a mutual decision and Penn State agreed with my decision to take a few weeks off and heal up. So, for now, I’m just focused on getting healthy so I can maximize my senior year when I’m back. It should be in a few weeks from now.
— Aeneas Hawkins (@AeneasHawkins) August 10, 2017
Snyder: We’ve talked about Sean Spencer a lot over the past year, but I have to ask about him again. He’s unlike any defensive line coach, maybe any coach I’ve ever met. What about Coach Spencer pulled you towards Penn State?
Hawkins: For me, he was a huge deal. I’m lucky to come from a high school with a guy name Jim Huxel. He’s renowned around our area for his intensity and the way he gets after things. He’s really elevated my game, so I wanted to go to a place where I knew the D-Line coach would push me and make me better everyday. It comes back to the idea of maximizing my potential. That’s what college is all about, whether you play football or not. For me, college ball is going to be a lot of fun, but like a lot of recruits, of course, I would love to get a chance to play after college someday. I don’t like to even talk about that because I know I have so much to prove before I get to even entertain that idea, but my point is that I just want to do what I can to maximize my potential. I know Coach Spencer is absolutely the right guy to do that. Plus, he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s definitely a player’s coach, which is what I’m looking for.
Snyder: I know it’s the season now, but I always like to try and learn more about your offseason training and what you plan to do before enrolling at Penn State. I know you work out with your team, but do you work with any personal trainers on the side? What’s your training schedule like?
Hawkins: Obviously, I lift my team all the time. We do a lot of explosion training as a team, so that’s how I work on getting bigger, stronger, faster. But after school, I’m beginning to do some boxing training to work on my cardio. Whenever my season ends and then up to about March or April, I’ll join the Cincinnati high school boxing club that they have down here. It’s great for not just cardio, but hand training and working on my core. It’s a lot of fun, too. There’s a lot of competition, not just in practice but in different tournaments and things like that. I look at it as a new way to condition, but also to compete at the same time. It’s a good way to stay motivated and keep the offseason from dragging on. So, that’s something that I’m really excited about trying this year.
Also, my uncle Andrew has flown me and my cousin, Shamar Jones, down to Tampa Bay with him and we work out where he used to train in the offseason. There’s a trainer down there for defensive lineman. He works with some NFL guys. I’m forgetting his name at the moment, I apologize, but he was drafted at one point and he works with a ton of great defensive lineman on specific drills. I go down there during spring break and whenever I get a break. I always enjoy that. Almost everyday involves lifting and boxing, but I’ll do some defensive tackle specific drills down in Tampa when I get the chance.
Snyder: Another topic I like to ask everyone: strengths and weaknesses. Basically, I want to know what are maybe one or two things that just come naturally to you as a defensive lineman. What have you always excelled at on the field? Then, I also want to know one or two things that you still really want to improve on before you enroll next summer?
Hawkins: One thing that I think is kind of an advantage for me is that I grew up around football with my dad. I’ve always understood how important it is to hustle on every play. You’ll never question my effort. That’ll always be 120 percent. Also, physically, I think that I have a pretty good quick twitch for someone my size. I can get off the ball pretty quickly and I also know how important it is to use your hands and use leverage.
Honestly, this is my first year really playing D-Tackle. I’ve always played defensive end, especially last year. So, to be able to go inside and attack people with my quicknesses and my hands, I think that’ll really help me make this switch to inside when I get back this season and then at Penn State. That kind of goes a long with something I want to improve on, too. Playing defensive tackle is a lot different than playing defensive end. You’re basically always double-teamed inside, so continuing to learn how to maximize my leverage inside, I think that’s something I need to keep learning and improving on. It’s all about technique and there’s a lot of different techniques that defensive tackles need to use compared to defensive end.
Snyder: I know it’s probably been awhile since you maxed out in the weight room, but do you remember your numbers from the offseason? A lot of fans like to know those numbers.
Hawkins: Yeah, my last max was way back in May, but I remember my totals. On deadlift, I hit 600 (pounds). My power clean is 275 and my bench is three reps at 315. My squat number is 545.
Snyder: Can you talk about your relationship with the committed players at Penn State? Who have you become the closest with over the past year? How did they impact your commitment?
Hawkins: I would say that PJ [Mustipher] is probably the guy I’m the closest with. I ran into him all the time, not just at Penn State, but at Ohio State and other big schools. It’s funny, because I used to always look at him as my competition. Obviously, he’s a great ball player and now that he’s going to be one of my future teammates, it’s great knowing he’s going to be right alongside me someday. As for everyone else, I always knew Jesse Luketa really well, but I didn’t really know everyone until the Lasch Bash. That was a fun event, but even the other week (when I visited for the Pitt game), that was one of the first chances for me to sit-down with everyone and just relax and get to know them. I hung out a lot with Nana [Asiedu], Ricky [Slade] and Justin Shorter a lot. It was great just hanging out with them and honestly, I was really impressed, too. They’re all super talented, but they’re all really good guys. If you didn’t know who they were, you would never think that they’re big-time football players. They’re all level-headed and that’s a big theme of our class and one thing I really loved about what Coach Franklin is doing here. The culture he’s trying to instill, it’s impressive. You go to other places and it’s just about ball. That’s not the case at Penn State. It’s about much more than that.
Snyder: So, how hard are you working on the other defensive lineman to get them to join this class?
Hawkins: Of course, I’m working on guys all the time. I’m already very close with Tyreke Smith. I probably talk to him a few times each week. I know he’s going to be an amazing football player, no matter where he ends up. He’s a good dude and smart guy, too. He comes from a great family, so he’s probably the guy I work on the most, but of course I talk to Jayson [Oweh] and Micah [Parsons], as well.
I’m not going to name names, but I know we’re going to get at least one more elite defensive lineman. That’s all I’ll say.
Snyder: Last question Aeneas. I like to give you all an opportunity to say something to the Penn State fans. Is there anything you’d like to say to everyone? It can be about whatever you’d like.
Hawkins: I would just say that, I know how good Penn State is now. I know how talented they are now and that they have huge goals for this year, but just wait until our class gets there. We’re already very close and you all know how talented this class is. We have huge goals, not just as individuals, but as a group. I know the classes before me were that way and I’m sure the 2019 class will be the same way. So, I hope you guys are ready and excited to support us because we’re all really excited about our four years at Penn State. The future is really bright at Penn State.