Chris Hawkins arrived at USC in January 2013, part of a group of early-enrolling freshmen intent on getting a jump on their careers.
Safeties Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay III, tailback Justin Davis and receiver Darreus Rogers all earned playing time last season.
Hawkins, a cornerback who played at Rancho Cucamonga High, redshirted along with defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow and quarterback Max Browne.
Hawkins appears to have benefited.
When the Trojans return to practice Friday, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Hawkins will continue to push for a role in a secondary that includes returning starters Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour. Freshman Adoree' Jackson also could earn playing time.
"Last year I was out of shape, a little fat and I didn't really know what I was doing out here," Hawkins said after intercepting a pass in the Trojans' scrimmage Wednesday night at the Coliseum. "I took the redshirt year and ran with it.
"I got my body right and learned about the mental part of the game so when I come out I can use my smarts as well."
With Shaw sidelined during spring practice, Hawkins stepped in and impressed the new coaching staff. Seymour has been limited while recovering from a stomach ailment that caused him to be hospitalized during summer, giving Hawkins more first-team reps.
"I've done what I've wanted to do," he said, "and I feel like it's paying off."
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox got his first chance to watch the Trojans in a game-type setting during the scrimmage.
The positives: Several players made plays.
Negatives: Too many penalties and busted coverages.
"There's plenty for us to work on," he said afterward. "There's no doubt we're not ready."
USC was without defensive linemen Leonard Williams (shoulder) and Antwaun Woods (elbow), who were held out.
The Trojans, who did not practice Thursday, return with two workouts Friday. It's the third of six double-days during training camp.
Cody Kessler is one of 32 players on the watch list for the Manning Award, presented to college football's top quarterback.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimeskleinCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times