Big Hank Off To Big Start

The offseason was a time of big change for Johnathan Hankins. The Ohio State defensive linemen switched positions, hit the weight room and changed his eating habits. The result has been good as Hankins is one of the defensive leaders on the stat sheet through three games.

There are some things a 6-3, 335-pound human being just isn't supposed to do.

Tracking down a running back who can run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash – and then celebrating by jumping, spinning celebration – is one of those things.

But that's exactly what Johnathan Hankins did Saturday night from his defensive tackle spot early in Miami's 24-6 win over Ohio State. Hurricanes tailback Lamar Miller was carving up the Buckeyes early in the game, but on one first-quarter toss play to the right, Hankins came across the formation and brought down the speedster before he could get started and hit the open field.

"When I can get a hit like that on a toss like that, I just hustle to get it and hope I make the play," he said. "(The celebration) just came. I was so excited to get there. I felt good that I got there and hit him. If I didn't I would have been mad."

That type of play has started to become par for the course for the sophomore from Detroit. Through three games, Hankins is third on the Ohio State squad with 12 tackles to go with two tackles for loss and a sack.

Through it all, he's showing he's not just a big body put on the field to fill holes. Hankins has played almost every play in each of the past two games, and he's shown some trademark quickness and agility for a guy who brings a fair bit of size to the table.

"I feel lucky that I have this ability," he said. "When I was little, I always felt I had that ability, but people never really saw it. I feel good to have that ability to be this big and move the way I move."

Hankins is only four tackles away from matching his total of 16 in 2010, a year in which he played only 89 minutes in 13 games, never topping 14 in any one contest.

While Hankins was productive on the field, he struggled staying on it. Though he was listed at 335 pounds, the same as this year, Hankins has admitted he was probably closer to 350, and he dealt with a knee issue in the second half of the season. Even when healthy, he was at times unable to give consistent effort on a play-to-play basis because of his conditioning level, making defensive line coach Jim Heacock use him mostly as a spot substitution.

As a result, the man known as "Big Hank" went about a workout and diet regimen during the offseason to make himself into a smaller Hank. He replaced two or three large meals each day with six smaller ones and hit the weight room hard.

"More summer conditioning and just working out and eating right," he said. "It was something I took upon myself to do, and they saw the changes and they helped out with what they do."

The result has been a new and improved version of the player, which has brought a smile to the face of Heacock, who raved about the fact that Hankins was in for a full complement of 67 plays in the team's win against Toledo.

"If you watched him and put on the film on the last series, he was going every bit as hard as he was early," Heacock said. "I'm very happy with his effort and his conditioning, the way he played throughout the game. I never saw him slow down."

One year after Hankins lined up primarily as the team's nose guard, backing up Dexter Larimore in that position over the center, Hankins has played more as a 3-technique player, lining up between a guard and tackle.

The move has freed up Hankins – who said he models himself after Detroit Lions star and former Nebraska Cornhusker tackle Ndamukong Suh – from the traffic of the middle, giving him some more space. He has already shown an ability to cut across the face of a guard with a rip move to penetrate into the backfield.

"I feel very comfortable," he said with a smile. "I have a couple of moves in my arsenal."

Those moves have prompted more opponents to send double teams Hankins' way, but don't expect the Buckeyes to shift the player to the Leo spot, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker role that has been hit hard by injury and suspension. The job description requires players to either rush the passer or drop into coverage, leaving open the possibility of Hankins playing in space.

"I wish they would (put me there), but I don't think so," he said. "I'd probably get an interception when I drop. You never know. I can do some things."

That deadpan humor is just one of the things Hankins brings to the table. His personality is such that the Buckeyes are happy to see him doing well in his second season in Columbus.

"I got to know him and where he comes from, his family, and he's a great young man," Heacock said. "I'm always amazed at the caliber of kid he is and student. He's really fun to be around, but to see him really come along and blossom this year and play better and compete, I think he's really on the right track."

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