Jason Hawkins likes to talk anywhere, anytime. Sharing his opinions with others is as natural to him as breathing.
Tyquan Brown can relate. Since arriving at Freedom as a freshman, Hawkins constantly tells Brown he is a better player than the star running back who is a year older and on the verge of becoming Prince William County’s all-time leading rusher.
Darryl Overton can relate as well.
During Freedom’s region semifinal Saturday against visiting Hayfield, Hawkins assured his head coach that he had the situation under control after Overton took one of his cornerbacks to task for being out of position.
“You got Jason Hawkins behind you,” Hawkins reminded Overton. “You don’t need to worry about getting beat by the deep ball.”
Neither Brown or Overton took offense to Hawkins’ bravado. They both know his personality and motives well enough to see the bigger picture. Hawkins challenges Brown to make him better. And Hawkins reminds Overton the secondary is in good hands with the junior at safety.
“He’s not a diva,” Overton said. “He’s coachable. He’s very confident.”
And clearly not a wallflower. That’s why teammates call him “Hollywood,” a nickname he picked up from his teammates when he moved to Prince William County for his eighth grade year and began playing with Overton’s Playmakers youth football organization.
“It means I’m the leader,” Hawkins said. “All eyes are on me. When the stage is big, I like all the attention. It comes naturally to me.”
No matter the circumstance.
Since cracking the starting lineup as a defensive back midway through his freshman year as an injury replacement, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Hawkins has become a force on both sides of the ball. Although he primarily plays safety, where he is a two-time first-team, all-Cardinal District selection, he’s assumed other critical roles over the years.
Last year, he stepped in for an injured Brown and rushed nine times for 91 yards in Freedom’s 48-42 win over Hylton.
After leading receiver Erik Surratt transferred to Woodbridge midway through this season, Hawkins became more involved in the passing game. He’s caught 15 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ last six games, including a career-high four receptions for 54 yards in the 29-19 win over Hayfield. Overall, Hawkins has scored eight touchdowns on offense (five receiving, four rushing).
But there’s more to Hawkins than putting up offensive numbers. It’s also the little things. Overton points to Hawkins’ block that sprang receiver Zack Person for a touchdown against Hayfield.
“He contributes in so many ways,” Overton said.
And when he’s not on the field, it’s noticeable. Hawkins had to sit out Freedom’s 48-28 loss Sept. 8 at Lake Taylor after being ejected the game before against Stonewall Jackson for targeting on a late hit.
While the 11-1 and 4A Region finalists were a formidable opponent, Overton believes Hawkins’ absence played a part in the Eagles losing their lone game of the season.
“They made plays on us passing the ball,” Overton said.
Hawkins comes from an athletic family. His mother Shalonda ran track at the University of Kentucky. His father Cliff is a former basketball standout at Potomac High School and then at Kentucky before playing professionally for nine years.
Although originally from Louisville, Hawkins knows many of his dad’s basketball exploits by heart after hearing them from his family.
At Potomac, Cliff helped lead the Panthers to two straight state tournaments. An all-state pick as a sophomore, Cliff’s most memorable moment was in the 1998 state semifinals when he outscored national player of the year Ronald Curry 31-13 as the Panthers knocked off defending state champion Hampton.
After his sophomore season, Cliff transferred to national power Oak Hill, where the Warriors went 32-0 his senior season and won the national title. Named a Parade All-American, he signed with Kentucky. Cliff played point guard for the Wildcats over four seasons and was a third-team all-SEC pick in 2003-04. After college, Cliff played overseas in Poland, Turkey, Japan, Italy, Cyprus and Georgia and also played briefly in the G League before his career ended following the 2012-13 season.
Hawkins spent his summers with his dad when Cliff was home and on break from basketball. With his pro career done, Cliff and Shalonda, an assistant principal for a middle school in Kentucky, agreed to have their son move to Woodbridge and live with him. Hawkins left Louisville after his seventh grade year and enrolled at Woodbridge Middle School.
“He was getting older and I was home for good,” said Cliff, who now works construction. “Every kid needs his father at some point.”
Cliff, who played middle school football as well before devoting himself fully to basketball in high school, never pressured his son to play basketball. Hawkins played basketball at Woodbridge Middle and in AAU. He also has a younger brother who is playing basketball as a freshman at Woodbridge High School. But Hawkins considered himself a football player first because he liked the contact.
“[Basketball] just didn’t click for me,” said Hawkins, who on defense has recorded three interceptions, three forced fumbles, 77 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 14 pass deflections this season.
After moving to Woodbridge to live with his dad, Hawkins saw his game develop more under Overton through his time in the Playmakers’ organization.
“Coach O is like a father figure to me,” Hawkins said. “He always had my best interests at heart.”
As second-seeded Freedom (11-1) prepares for Saturday’s 7 p.m. 6A Region C final at top-seeded W.T. Woodson (11-1), Hawkins is ready for the next challenge. It’s something he thrives on and embraces. If there are any doubts, he’ll dispel them in an instant with one sentence.
“I can handle it,” Hawkins said.