Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk joined ESPN News for a lengthy interview on Saturday and had interesting takes on a wide variety of topics.
Here are highlights from the interview:
Hawk on the importance of OSU's convincing wins over Michigan and Oklahoma State to close out the 2004 season:
"I think it really got the ball rolling going into the winter workouts and spring and now summer. It just kind of got us going and gave us some confidence, because it was a tough season for us. We had a tough three game stretch there where we lost some games. Just not a normal Ohio State season. We wanted to make sure that we went out on a bang and sent our seniors out right and now we have a great bunch of seniors coming back this season and we're just excited to get to the season."
Hawk on who will be the No. 1 quarterback: Justin Zwick, or Troy Smith:
"Oh, that's a question that our coaches couldn't even you right now. It's tough. You can never have too much talent and we have a ton of talent at the quarterback position. We actually have a third guy that can really play in Todd Boeckman. So, with Troy, obviously he's going to be more of a scrambling-type guy and run around and make plays. And then Zwick will be more of a pocket passer and pick people apart. But they both have great arms and they can both play and I think it's great for our team to have a lot of talent like that because you can really attack a team from every different angle."
Hawk on OSU's new high-powered offense, led by Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr.:
"Oh, I'm excited for the direction our offense is going. It's opened up a little bit; they're doing a few more thing here and there and getting guys like Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes the ball. And when you get them the ball in space, I mean, they're dangerous. You've seen Ted Ginn last year. One of the most explosive players in college football. And Santonio Holmes, in a lot of polls, he's the best wide receiver going into this season in the whole country. So, it's fun to watch them play and our whole offense as a whole has really improved over the last year. It's going to be fun to watch."
Hawk's thoughts on OSU's linebackers – including Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel – being touted as the best in the nation:
"Obviously, it's a great compliment. But us three, we want to make sure we actually live up to that hype. We come out and we show that we deserve to be named up there with some of the great linebackers in the country, because there's a ton of great linebackers playing right now in college football. Abdul Hodge, Chad Greenway just in the Big Ten. And then it seems like everywhere in the country there's great linebackers. So, it's fun to be part of a class this great and we're just trying to do what we can and live up to the hype that people are giving us."
Hawk's thoughts on a recent ESPN.com poll in which he was voted as college football's best defensive player for 2005 and the pressure that goes with it:
"I don't know if I'd really call it pressure. Like I said, it makes you want to come out and it makes you want to perform. The same kind of thing happened to me last year. I got some publicity. The media has been really great to me and really treated me well and really given me a lot of publicity. I just want to come out and make sure I work hard every day and try to improve and try and live up to some of that hype. Because, there's nothing worse than guys getting hyped up and then they come out and have a bad year. So, I want to make sure I don't disappoint people, especially my team."
Hawk on the Texas game and how the Buckeye defense will try and contain quarterback Vince Young:
"Well, obviously Vince Young and their whole offense have a ton of talent and a lot of skill. It's going to be tough, but we've got in there and watched some film on them, and Miami of Ohio, our opener. We're going to make sure we try and shut him (Young) down because he's a huge part of their offense and with a guy with that much speed and he's big and he can throw the ball, it makes it tough to stop. Everyone saw against Michigan in the Rose Bowl. That was kind of his coming-out game last year and everyone saw that game and saw what he can do. He's a great player and it's going to be a fun game to be a part of."
Hawk on how the Buckeyes will try and separate themselves from Michigan and Iowa in the race for the Big Ten championship:
"Well, it's tough. That's why the Big Ten is such a great conference. When you have teams like that every year that you are competing against, it makes it tough to win the Big Ten. Iowa is going to be a huge game for us. We went up there and they took it to us last year. It was a tough game for us. We didn't play well and they played great. They're a great team.
"A team like Michigan last year, I mean, in that game, there is so much emotion, so much passion. It's hyped up all year. Both teams are going to come to play, but it's all about who has that little bit of extra step that day and last year we had it, and two years ago they had it. So, we're going to see what happens this year. And hopefully… I haven't won in the Big House yet, so hopefully we'll go up there and compete with them."
Hawk describing the tradition of Gold Pants:
"It's a pendant that you can put on a necklace. My mom's got both of mine. It's from a coach a long time ago when Ohio State wasn't winning very much against Michigan – I don't know, in the 20's, or 30's – and he said, ‘They put their pants on one leg at time just like us.' And from then on, every time we beat Michigan, you get a pair of gold pants with the score on the back."
Hawk on how he responds to the critics that say Jim Tressel is not the All-American coach he appears to be:
"I think when people look at him, they might think, ‘He looks too perfect. We've got to find something; try and get some dirt on him.' Say a player on our team gets in trouble, they put it all on him. I mean, the coach can only do so much. It's on us as players and everyone else to police the team too.
"But, I have so much respect for Coach Tressel. I tell everyone – they always ask me: ‘What's he really like? Is he really like so calm and collected like he is on the field?' And I always tell them that Coach Tressel is the same at all times. He has a bunch of respect for his players and his players respect him in turn. I can't say enough about him, because he really practices what he preaches. What he tells the media and tells everyone else, he's telling us the same thing every day and making sure that we're getting in class, we're graduating and we're not just trying to be better football players, but better people."
Hawk on how much it hurts him personally when he hears falsehoods about Tressel:
"It's tough, obviously, but we know how it is. I knew coming here to Ohio State that we're in a fishbowl and everyone is watching you and they want to find some dirt on anyone and they want to take you down. You have to take the good with the bad. We have 105,000 people come to our games every Saturday. That's the great part about being here. The bad part is that you're going to have some people lurk on the outside and they're going to try and take you down. That's what we've got to try and brush off and make sure we're focused on what we're doing. We're not worried about anything outside of our team. Coach Tressel says that we're a family and we really feel like it. We don't let anyone outside of that family influence us."
Hawk on the deciding factors that led him to return for his senior season at OSU:
"Honestly, I never gave it much thought about leaving. It never even crossed my mind until towards the end of the year, during bowl practice, the media comes up to me and says, ‘What do you think about the people that say you might leave early?' And that was news to me, because honestly, I never really thought about it, because I enjoy it here so much. I enjoy the college experience. I enjoy my team, my coaches … everything here is just been so perfect for me that I kind of want to go out on a bang. And last year we didn't have the season we wanted to have. I saw the potential that's here and the seniors that are on this team with us, we just have so much fun playing together. I came in with a lot of these guys, I'm starting with them, it's just going to be a fun year. I think the fans around Columbus and around the nation are ready for our season and so are we."