Moments before lightning strikes in the distance put a stop to Southern’s scrimmage Saturday, a bolt hit the field.
This one was wearing a blue No. 3 jersey, and it struck near the right sideline at the offense’s 40-yard line.
That’s where receiver Charles Hawkins, having just caught a 5-yard hitch from quarterback Dray Joseph, shook off cornerback D’Andre Woodland.
By the time Woodland hit the ground, Hawkins was already nearing top speed. He dashed up the sideline, then cut to the other side of the field and raced into the end zone, where he was mobbed by his teammates.
They could feel the electricity.
A week earlier, the offense wasn’t able to find pay dirt against the starting defense. This time out, it took a matter of seconds.
Hawkins’ 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown came on the first play, and it left the offense looking to prove it wasn’t a fluke, while the defense was determined not to let it happen again.
Neither got much of a chance.
Two drives later, the real lightning came. After a delay, there was another strike nearby, and the Jaguars’ scrimmage was over before it had a chance to get rolling.
“I think today the offense finally came out with some fire,” Joseph said. “We came out with a quick strike and scored on the first play of the game, so I think all in all, we were going to have a good day.”
That’s a subject for the offense and defense to debate in the locker room. But on a morning that was too short to draw any conclusions about Southern’s progress, it was clear Hawkins has the ability to fulfill the Jaguars’ sky-high expectations of him.
Southern needs the redshirt senior — a victim of injuries in the past — to have a breakout year by doing exactly what he did on his touchdown.
His route called for a fly if the cornerback was in tight coverage, a hitch if he had a cushion. Woodland gave him room, so Hawkins ran the hitch and Joseph put the ball on the money.
After evading Woodland’s lunge, it was off to the races.
“I saw (linebacker) Anthony Balancier and another guy — I don’t remember what number — and I kind of saw a little bitty hole between them, so I figured I could fit through there,” Hawkins said. “The rest was just trying to make a play. I kept cutting back.”
Stump Mitchell said he was happy to see Hawkins flash his potential, but from a coach’s perspective, it wasn’t the outcome he was looking for.
“I’m hoping both teams do their job: we get 5 yards and our guy makes the tackle,” Mitchell said. “But if I was just the offensive coach, it’s exciting. Hopefully we’ll have some plays like that where Hawkins gets the ball in his hands and makes some people miss. He can do that.”
Hawkins’ play was essentially the finale for Southern’s fall training camp. Afterward, Joseph led two drives that ended in punts before J.P. Douglas came in for a drive and a half with the second string, which totaled just 2 yards.
Not much can be gleaned from such a small sample size.
The weather-shortened day was frustrating, especially for players competing for positions and needing a chance to showcase their talent. Count Joseph and Douglas in the number, as they’ve yet to settle who will take over as the starting quarterback.
But coming out of camp and with less than two weeks until the season opener at New Mexico, both have an idea of what it will take.
“I think our team, we all look for a leader, and as a quarterback, that’s what I have to be,” Joseph said. “But I feel that sometimes when I don’t come out with the right attitude, the whole offense takes that type of attitude, and we’re all just sluggish. I think if I come out with some fire and just have fun, the guys feed off of my energy.”
Joseph was having fun on Hawkins’ touchdown. After he threw the pass, he was already thinking about what play they’d run on second-and-5. But when Hawkins broke free, Joseph helped lead the celebration.
He’ll try to come back next week with that same upbeat persona that earned him kudos during spring practices.
Douglas said his goal is similar: “Remain the catalyst for the offensive side of the ball. Keep high energy and make sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to.”
Mitchell felt Douglas had done that Saturday, which also included 7-on-7 passing drills.
Overall, Mitchell leaves camp pleased with his team’s effort — particularly from the kicking game — but has a to-do list that includes picking a quarterback and upgrading the third-down offense and defense.
“Of course you always want to see more improvement, but right now we’re happy with where we’re at,” Mitchell said. “And we’re also happy that we still have two weeks to go.”