The Pittsburgh Steelers have selected Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne with their fifth round pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
Carnell Lake press conference audio:
Illinois’ talented defense has received well-deserved praise over the past couple of seasons, with defensive end Whitney Mercilus landing in the first round of the 2012 draft (after leading the nation in sacks) and multiple 2013 draft prospects littering the team’s front seven. But the surprising selection of safety Tavon Wilson in the second round by the Patriots and the obvious talents of Hawthorne hinted that more Illini could be next. Despite a very talented group, Hawthorne and the rest of the defense played well below average and finished the season on a nine game losing streak.
Hawthorne was on nearly everyone’s All-American list as a high school after earning Illinois all-state and St. Louis all-metro honors at East St. Louis (28 touchdowns on offense, four more on interception returns at cornerback). He played every game as a true freshman, starting the final five and scoring a 44-yard touchdown against Minnesota on his sole interception of the year. Before his sophomore year, however, Hawthorne fractured his right foot in practice. He missed the first four games of the season, playing in eight of the last nine and starting the Texas Bowl win over Baylor (led team with nine tackles). He managed to stay healthy in 2011, breaking out in a honorable-mention All-Big Ten campaign and tying for the conference lead with 11 passes defended (three interceptions, eight pass break-ups). He was the team’s Defensive Player of the Game in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl 20-14 win over UCLA after taking an interception back 39 yards for a touchdown. The injury bug caught Hawthorne again while playing Wisconsin and was taken to the hospital by an ambulance after a head injury that was later determined to be a concussion. He finished with 43 total tackles, four going for loss including one sack. He added six pass breakups and one interception while only missing one start.
STRENGTHS Able to match up against opponents’ top receivers and support the run because of his physicality. Possesses the height, vertical, and tenacity to be factor as a press corner and on jump balls down the sideline. Quick to react on short routes, has the short-area footwork to break on poor throws to make the interception. Uses strong upper body to wrap up larger wideouts immediately after the catch and to throw down big backs in the open field. Brings some pop to the party, creates turnovers with his impact and willingness to rip at the ball during the tackle. Also a solid cut tackler, throws his shoulder into the thigh of ballcarriers to stop their momentum. Reliable on containment responsibilities outside against the run and on misdirection, will rip off blocks with strong hands. Willing to meet backs head-on in the hole and gives chase to plays down the line when no receiver is on his side of the field.
WEAKNESSES Flashes some ability to backpedal quickly, but is often asked to open his hips off the line and is inconsistent transitioning forward to stay with out routes. Lunges at ballcarriers and ducks his head coming in for tackles at times. Takes risks and lacks great ball security when fielding punts, runs with strength but lacks great elusiveness. Body-catches interceptions, will need to prove he can extend away from his frame to complete more difficult plays.
NFL COMPARISON Aaron Ross
BOTTOM LINE Hawthorne is a physical defender with the size to start outside against larger NFL receivers, hands and read-and-react ability to make plays in coverage, and aggressive nature to hold up his end of the bargain in run support. Illinois had plenty of draftable defensive talent in 2012, but the unit as a whole was putrid. Hawthorne\’s extreme injury in the middle of October may have played a part in it, but the senior was not the same player in 2012 as he was in 2011.
Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in both 2011 and 2012
Played in 44 career games, making 26 starts and posting 163 takles, 12.5 TFLs, 1.0 sack, six interceptions, including two pick-sixes, and 28 passes defended.
Helped lead Illinois to back-to-back bowl victores in 2010 (Texas Bowl) and 2011 (Kraft Fight Hunger)
Defensive MVP of the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Anchored a 2011 Illini defense that ranked seventh nationally in total defense (286.2 ypg) and third nationally in pass defense (162.3 ypg)
2012 – Senior: Honrable mention All-Big Ten selection by media … Earned Illinois Point Award as top Defensive Skill Player at annual postseason banquet … Led the team with seven passes defended (six PBUs and one INT) … Played in 11 games and started nine, making 44 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 1.0 sack, six PBUs and one INT in senior season … Also returned 12 kicks for 255 yards (21.2 ypr), including an Illinois season-long of 45 at Ohio State … Recorded an interception, his first of the season, and five tackles, including one for a loss, at Northwestern … Posted 10 tackles, including career-highs in solos (9) and TFLs (2.0), recorded his first career sack and had a career-best six kickoff returns for a career-high 158 yards, including a career-long 45-yarder, at Ohio State … Broke up a pass, made one tackle and posted two kickoff returns, including a 27-yarder against Indiana … Missed Michigan game due to injury … Registered seven tackles before leaving the game due to injury at Wisconsin … Recorded four tackles and one PBU against Penn State … Registered four tackles, one PBU and a 25-yard kick return against Louisiana Tech … Made five tackles, including one TFL, and broke up a pass in season-opening win over Western Michigan … Named to the preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung Award … Named a preseason third-team All-Big Ten selection by Phil Steele.
2011 – Junior: Honorable Mention All-Big Ten by the coaches and media … Played in all 13 games, making 11 starts at cornerback … Also took over punt return duties late in the season … Had 60 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, a team-high three interceptions and a team-high 11 passes defended on the season … Tied for the Big Ten lead in passes defended per game (0.85) … Earned Defensive Player of the Game honors in Illinois\’ win over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl after scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 39-yard interception return … Also recorded five tackles, 1.5 TFLs and a PBU, and returned four punts for 31 yards against UCLA … Recorded three tackles, a half-TFL and two PBUs against Minnesota … Led the Illini with a career-high 15 tackles, one forced fumble and one QB hurry against Wisconsin … Posted two tackles and one TFL and returned his first punt for six yards against Michigan … Recorded three tackles and one interception against Penn State … Led team with nine tackles, including a career-high eight solos, along with an interception and a career-high three PBUs against Western Michigan … Shared the team lead with eight tackles, including one TFL and a PBU in win over Arizona State … Recorded one tackle and one TFL against South Dakota State … Posted four tackles in season-opener against Arkansas State.
2010 – Sophomore: Played in eight games on the season, making one start … Missed five games (the first four games and the Minnesota game) due to injury … Had 28 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, three PBUs and one interception on the season … Made his first start of the season in the Texas Bowl, where he led the team with a career-high nine tackles, including seven solos, and 1.5 TFLs in the win over Baylor … Had four tackles and a half-TFL at Fresno State … Tallied two tackles and a PBU in win over Northwestern … Recorded three tackles and two PBUs at Michigan … Secured his only interception of the season and had four tackles and one TFL in win over Indiana … Tallied three tackles, including his first TFL of the season against Michigan State … Preseason first-team All-Big Ten by Phil Steele\’s College Football Preview … Preseason third-team All-Big Ten by Athlon Sports.
2009 – Freshman: Earned Freshman All-Big Ten honors from The Sporting News … Played in all 12 games, making five starts … Had 30 tackles, five PBUs and one interception which was returned for a TD on the season … Recorded four tackles and a career-best three PBUs against No. 5 Cincinnati … Recorded first career interception and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown in win over Minnesota … Also had a career-high five solo tackles and a PBU against Gophers … Recorded season-best six tackles, including a touchdown saver from behind in win over Michigan … Returned four kickoffs for 74 yards, including a long of 22 against Penn State.
High School: Parade All-American … Named nation\’s top receiver by Parade Magazine … USA Today All-American … Listed as the 58th-best player in the country by Rivals.com … SuperPrep All-American … SuperPrep Midwest Offensive Player of the Year … Champaign News-Gazette Player of the Year … St. Louis Post-Dispatch first-team All-State and All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year … Champaign News-Gazette All-State … Ranked No. 54 on PrepStar\’s Dream Team … Named the No. 3 player in the Midwest by SuperPrep … MaxPreps first-team All-American … Named to the EA Sports All-America team … A four-star recruit by Rivals.com … MaxPreps top-100 player … Ranked the No. 6 wide receiver nationally by Rivals.com … Three-year starter for East St. Louis … No. 1 player in the state of Illinois by Rivals.com … A four-star recruit by Scout.com … Scored 28 touchdowns and recorded 1,009 receiving yards as a senior … Also ran back four interceptions for touchdowns … Averaged 21 yards per catch in 2008 … Played receiver, defensive back, punter and returned punts as both a junior and senior … Rated the 11th-best receiver by Scout.com … Registered 1,100 yards receiving as a junior and scored 15 touchdowns … Recorded 118 tackles and eight interceptions, three returned for touchdowns … Also posted a 44.8 punting average, 263 punt return yards and scored 132 points for his Illinois 7A State Championship team … Ranked the No. 12 receiver nationally by Tom Lemming … High school coach was Darren Sunkett.
Personal: Born on Jan. 1, 1990 … Son of Diane Hawthorne and Ricky McGary … Enrolled in the general curriculum … Nickname is Black Cat … Chose Illinois over Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.