Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep three-star tight end CJ Hawkins shocked the world late last week when, seemingly, out of left field, he switched his pledge from Florida to Stanford.
Less than three weeks prior to his decommitment, while visiting campus for the game against Alabama, the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder declared his love for Florida in a pre-game interview with Inside the Gators.
“The Alabama game was an amazing experience that I loved and had a great time at,” explained Hawkins. “Nothing really changed about my love for the school as I still do have a great love for the University of Florida and the [football] program.”
Though he has strong feelings for Florida, Hawkins admitted that he started second-guessing his commitment to the Orange & Blue after officially visiting the Cardinal over the summer.
“I started having second thoughts after my visit in the summer, it was extremely eye-opening and allowed me to really compare the two completely different environments and figure out what’s best for me.”
According to Hawkins, the fact that he switched his commitment the week after Florida lost a game to unranked Kentucky, to drop to – then – 3-2 on the season, was more of a coincidence than an actual factor.
“That's a funny question, but no the Kentucky loss had nothing to do with my decision,” stated Hawkins. “To be honest the records or recent wins and losses didn’t play a role in my decision. While it's common knowledge that the SEC is a powerhouse conference, the PAC-12 is still extremely competitive and plays a high level of football with some of the best teams in the country. Though wins and losses are important, I was more focused on watching the different play styles of both teams and how I’d fit.”
Though the record may not have played a part in his switch, Hawkins said that he has noticed the dramatic drop in production Florida's tight ends have suffered this year.
One year after Kyle Pitts won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end, Florida's players at the position have become an afterthought in the 2021 offense. Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer have combined for 15 catches for 127-yards. Though he isn't setting any records, in six games Stanford's starting tight end Benjamin Yurosek has 15 catches 241 yards.
Also, the Cardinal have had six tight ends drafted in the last nine NFL drafts.
“I definitely noticed their [Florida's] use of the tight ends this year,” explained Hawkins. “While I wasn’t too impressed by it, I really liked how Gamble came up big during the Bama game. Comparing the play styles to Stanford I felt like both schools put a big emphasis on the tight end, but couldn’t deny the fact that Stanford has the most tight ends in the league.”
Another factor in Stanford's favor is their willingness to allow him to play basketball as well.
Up until last year, Hawkins saw his future as being on the hardwood rather than the gridiron.
“I’d be lying if I said basketball didn’t play a part at all,” said Hawkins. “Though it wasn’t at all the deciding factor, my love for the game is still very much alive and it wasn’t something I was ready to give up In college. When I found out I’d have the ability to play it under the condition that I make an impact on the team, it made me put things in perspective as it is a dream to play two sports I love while receiving one of the best educations this world has to offer. It really was a “What more can you ask for” situation.”
Hawkins explained that another aspect that was in Stanford's favor is how he feels about head coach David Shaw.
“Coach Shaw and Coach [Dan] Mullen are similar in the sense that they're both pretty laid back but extremely involved,” said Hawkins. “What I really appreciated and valued about Coach Shaw was how genuine and honest he was with me throughout this whole process, there was never a point where I didn’t know where I stood in the program as well as hearing constantly that he’s the same person during recruiting as he is coaching.”
The Inside Scoop: To this point, he has only taken unofficial visits to Florida, meaning he still has his official visit available if he wants to take it. I asked Hawkins if his recruiting process was over, and he replied, 'as of now my recruitment is 100% closed' – with the words 'as of now' being key. This is recruiting, so it goes without saying that things change. Just judging by how much he raved about Florida on the Saturday he was there for the Alabama game, as well as his ties to the school, it's difficult for me to say that the door is entirely shut here.