Jerald Hawkins has a secret: He played last season as LSU’s starting left tackle on a banged-up foot and ankle.
“It pretty much affected me the whole year,” Hawkins said. “I had to put that aside. It was more than just about me — it was about the team.”
Hawkins enters the NFL combine this week fully healthy, well past his recovery from that pesky ankle sprain he suffered during preseason camp and battled throughout the season. The injury slowed him last season and, at times, forced him to miss practices, he said.
Hawkins is feeling better than ever after more than a month at the EXOS training facility in San Diego. The 6-foot-6, 305-pounder was scheduled to leave for the combine Monday morning.
He and at least 10 others with Louisiana ties will arrive in Indianapolis this week set to showcase their on-field skills, interview with NFL officials off the field and flash their bright smiles for the media horde.
Hawkins is the fifth former Tiger invited to the combine, joining offensive lineman Vadal Alexander, linebacker Deion Jones and defensive backs Jalen Mills and Rashard Robinson. Robinson, dismissed from the team more than a year ago, is categorized as an LSU player, according to the list of invitees from the NFL.
Mike Detillier, WWL’s football analyst, said all five former LSU players could be picked before the middle of the third round, with Mills having the best chance to squeeze into the first round.
Three former Louisiana Tech standouts will compete at the combine, as well as one from Southeastern Louisiana. Ex-Auburn receiver D’haquille Williams and former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, Louisiana natives, were invited to the weeklong event at Lucas Oil Stadium.
NFL scouts, coaches and owners, and those watching live on NFL Network, will judge future NFL stars in things like the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, shuttle run and bench press.
It’s a nervous time, right? Right, Hawkins said.
“I believe every athlete is going to be nervous, but the excitement overwhelms that,” he said. “I just pray about it. I know I’m well prepared. I know I’ve put in the work.”
Hawkins hopes to show his “full potential” in Indianapolis after being hampered last season at LSU. The Baldwin native admitted last season that he twisted his ankle during preseason camp and sat out much of preseason practice. But Hawkins never revealed that he battled the injury throughout the entire season.
“Played all year with banged-up foot and ankle,” Hawkins said. “During the games, I’d re-twist it. Just tape it back up and try to get back out there and handle my business.”
He missed LSU’s game against Ole Miss after re-aggravating the injury in the second quarter of a loss to Arkansas.
Some, like Detillier, believe the injury is a positive.
“It’s a plus,” he said. “It shows he fought through it to play.”
Hawkins has been in San Diego training for about six weeks, he said. Two weeks into that stretch, he said, he felt fully healthy for the first time since the summer.
His 11-hour training days begin about 7 each morning. He lives in an apartment across from the EXOS training center. He works out multiple times a day, watches film and receives treatment for his legs. He spends most of his time with Hudson Houck, a 40-year NFL coaching veteran and former offensive lineman.
“We watch a lot of film. A lot of ball work,” Hawkins said. “He’s opened up the game more to me.”
Several officials from NFL teams have contacted Hawkins during his training. He expects to meet with more this week at the combine. He said he has not yet spoken to the Saints.
“I want to show them my strengths, my stability and my balance, really,” he said. “I feel I have the upper-body strength, but I want to showcase I have lower-body strength as well. I can explode out of things. I’m able to move around.”
Detillier expects the combine — he calls it the “football Olympics” — is made for guys like Hawkins. He expects a good showing.
“I think Jerald Hawkins is the tackle version of (former LSU guard and current Panthers starter) Trai Turner,” Detillier said. “He’s the best athlete LSU had up front, most LSU players will tell you. He’s a guy who has some movement skills. He’s awfully fast and quick for a big man.”
“Hawkins is a tough evaluation because the length and footwork in pass protection are promising, but issues with bend and body control may be difficult to correct,” a draft analysis of Hawkins posted on NFL.com states. “Hawkins has talent, but his ceiling might be tied directly to whether a team allows him to sit while an offensive line coach works to correct the technical flaws that limit his effectiveness. Hawkins’ best spot may be right tackle.”
Hawkins said he’s willing to play any position, and he’s only motivated by low projections of himself or his draft stock.
“I’m not a big flashy guy, showcase (guy),” he said. “I might not always be in the spotlight, but I feel like I always have something to prove.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.
NFL Network begins televising the NFL combine on-field workouts starting Friday and running through Monday, each morning at 8 a.m. Louisiana has several former college players or native sons participating in the combine. Workouts are determined on position groups.
Friday: Offensive line, running back and specialist
OL Vadal Alexander, LSU
OL Jerald Hawkins, LSU
RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Saturday: Quarterback, receiver, tight end
QB Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
WR D’haquille Williams, Auburn
Sunday: Linebacker and defensive line
LB Deion Jones, LSU
DL Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Monday: Defensive back
DB Harlan Miller, Southeastern Louisiana
DB Jalen Mills, LSU
DB Rashard Robinson, LSU
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.