LARAMIE -- White-capped mountains, dirt and golden waves of grass.

That's the scene Jakorey Hawkins verbally painted, referring to what he saw from his windshield upon his arrival in Wyoming last January. It's a far cry from his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, or the place he called home for the last four years, Oxford, Mississippi.

"It's a little different," UW's newest cornerback said, followed by a laugh. "It snows out here. The altitude, I'm still getting adjusted to that."

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Hawkins said this isn't his first time seeing mountains, though. He took a recruiting visit to Penn State back in 2018. The elevation of State College, Penn., hovers around 1,150 feet.

Laramie, of course, sits at 7,220 feet above sea level, War Memorial being the highest stadium in the FBS.

"It's been fun to watch Jakorey adapt to Wyoming," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. "You know, he has really embraced Wyoming. Sometimes you can find some guys that will be down in the mouth and think, 'OK, it's mid-April here and it's not exactly weather that you would find in Montgomery, Alabama.'"

Any griping from the new guy?

"He really doesn't complain," said UW cornerbacks coach Benny Boyd. "I mean, it's a big adjustment for him, you know, coming in from the south to here. It's been more the altitude than the wind."

Hawkins may have visualized a vast, desolate land dead ahead the day he arrived in Laramie, but mentally, he said, he simply sees an opportunity.

During his tenure in the Ole Miss secondary, Hawkins appeared in 26 games and earned just six starts at the corner spot, all coming during the 2020 campaign. He racked up a career-high 25 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles, including one against No. 2 Alabama.

He also added eight tackles and a pass breakup that day against the Crimson Tide.

Those opportunities, however, were far and few between.

That's what essentially led him to the high plains and the Cowboys' indoor practice facility on a day when wind gusts were reaching better than 70 miles per hour.

Hawkins isn't worried about weather, he's here to show he belongs.

"I definitely know this is my chance to lock in strictly on football," he said. "There's no distractions out here, it's all on me. Like working on my body, football, school, you know, I can just factor in the stuff that's important. That's what I first saw when I got here."

Bohl and Co. were forced to sift through the NCAA Transfer Portal after last season's starting cornerbacks CJ Coldon and Azizi Hearn decided to leave the program following Wyoming's bowl victory over Kent State.

What he came away with was Derron Harrell, a former Wisconsin defensive back with 22 games under his belt, and Hawkins, a three-year letterwinner in the Southeastern Conference.

 

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UW's ninth-year head coach has been impressed with Hawkins' progress in such a short amount of time. He's grasping the concepts, Bohl said, adding that this young squad needs the two new guys to "continue to make improvements."

"He's got a smile on his face," Bohl jokes, referring to Hawkins' acclimation to Wyoming's unpredictable spring weather. "He can run and he's got good length. He's had a really good attitude in practice, so he's been a joy to coach."

Boyd said he is still "working out some kinks" with Hawkins, but has been encouraged by his work ethic and willingness to learn a new system on the fly.

"He's made great strides and actually is a little bit ahead of where I anticipated him being at this point," he said of the 5-foot-11, 189-pound junior.

One element of Hawkins' game that doesn't need to be tweaked is his breakneck speed. During a Week 2 meeting with Kentucky in 2020, he clocked in at a team-best 22.4 miles per hour.

That's just part of what left coaches from Penn State, Auburn, West Virginia, Missouri, South Carolina, and many others, salivating at the thought of landing the former three-star recruit.

"I tell you what, man, he glides with it so you don't know that he's really opened up until you see him close on a ball or close on another player," Boyd said. "That speed can make up for a lot of mistakes, man, because he can absolutely fly."

That speed was developed at a young age. Five years old, in fact. When you line up across from former Alabama star and Raiders first-round selection, Henry Ruggs, every day at practice since Pee-Wee league, you have to possess some wheels.

"That kind of drove me," Hawkins said. "For somebody that close to me -- and I guard him every day -- to be the No. 1 receiver drafted, that made me go hard every day."

Bohl said he discovered Hawkins through an old coaching friend, Mike MacIntyre. The former head coach at San Jose State and Colorado was the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss in 2019.

Hawkins, for one, is sure glad he did.

"Man, it's a blessing for God to give me this opportunity," he said. "Shoot, there's about 10,000 people in the portal, you know, who can't find a home. Luckily I was able to find a good place for me."

Hawkins thinks he can be a starter in Wyoming's secondary, which is littered with youth after the departure of so many starters from last year's squad. He hopes his time in the SEC can allow him to mentor guys. He even claims there are a number of players on his new squad that could suit up in his former league.

He has also allowed himself to day dream a bit about what a fall Saturday will look like in this place.

"I'm super ready for a game," Hawkins said. "I love the atmosphere. When the lights come on that's when I come on, too."

UW vs. NIU September 11, 2021