"It's a big honor to be named that," Hawk said. "With all the linebackers we have in the Big Ten, there are two or three guys on each team that could be there like that. I know it is easier to be named that because of the talent I have around me."
Hawk tallied 141 tackles for the Buckeyes a year ago, earning consensus All-American honors.
"He's smart," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "He doesn't panic. He has an awareness for the whole field. He can tell by how you line up and who's in the game what may be coming. He's tough. He never misses a practice snap. You have to drag him off the field in games."
When asked what he likes the best about Hawk, Tressel said, "His humility. You love being around people who are grounded. Truly, the team is the most important thing to him. He understands without his teammates he wouldn't be here."
A year ago, the Buckeyes did not meet their lofty expectations. But, after a 3-3 start, OSU reversed field and won five of its last six games.
"The biggest thing we did by the last couple of games was we put a complete game together," Hawk said. "Early in the year, we would play a good three quarters and then in the fourth quarter we would fall apart. Finally, in the Michigan and Oklahoma State games we put a full game together. When the defense is playing well, it helps the offense out and vice versa. We're going to focus on putting a full game together right off the bat against Miami."
The strong finish carried over into the off-season, Hawk said.
"We've had a great off-season," he said. "Leading up to the year, it's been a long off-season. We're ready to get down to it and play. You can only lift and run for so long. It's time to get the pads out and start hitting."
Quietly, Hawk has emerged as a leader for the Buckeyes. He regularly works out at 6 a.m.
"I got in that habit from high school," Hawk said. "When I was in high school, in June and July we would work out every morning at 5:15 a.m. I'm used to getting up early and getting my work done. I also had class the rest of the day, too. We'd get up, lift, go to class and then have 7 on 7. I feel better when I get up early in the morning and get it done."
Hawk's work habits have rubbed off on others.
"He's one of those crazy guys," center Nick Mangold said. "He gets up in the morning at 6 a.m. and he lifts. I live with him and that helps me out. If A.J. is getting up, I'm going to be there with him. If he's going to do it, I'm going to, too."
Hawk's devotion to the game is legendary, Mangold said.
"There was an incident and he had a cut on his forehead two years ago during preseason camp," he said. "The doctor said he needed to slow down for a day or two. They had to hide his helmet and take it from him so he wouldn't try to go out there."
But it was that dedication that has helped Hawk shave tenths off his 40-yard time – he is reputed to be a 4.42-second 40 guy, which is impressive at 6-1, 240.
"The huge thing in football that the say today is speed kills," he said. "You look at the linebackers in the Big Ten with (Chad) Greenway, (Tim) McGarigle and (Abdul) Hodge. They can all drop back in coverage and blitz and take blockers on.
"Coach Butch Reynolds has been a good addition. He's not just there to help us run our 40. He's there to help us with our game speed and how to control your body during a game."
Hawk is part of, perhaps, the best linebacker corps in the country. Classmate Bobby Carpenter will line up at the other outside spot, while seniors Anthony Schlegel and Mike D'Andrea will likely split time in the middle.
"Anthony was a great pick-up," Hawk said. "We got really lucky to have him and Coach Dantonio did a good job in getting him. To get a guy with that much experience, it can't hurt. He showed at Air Force he can play.
"You look at Bobby. He's a freak. He's 6-3, 255 pounds and he can fly. He can run a 4.4 40. He's a physical freak. Then you put him on the field and he can play. A lot of time he doesn't get the credit he deserves because he is down there in the trenches and doing the dirty work. Bobby will be coming off the edge a little bit more and doing some blitzing. He is an all around great player. I enjoy playing with him. It's going to be a fun senior year for both of us, I think."
D'Andrea is hoping to get through a year without an injury. Hawk said it's been a hard road for D'Andrea.
"You feel bad for Mike what happened to him the last couple of years," Hawk said. "I hope he can have an injury free season. He looks great now and he says he feels fine. It's great playing with guys you came in with. I can't believe we're already seniors. A guy like Mike, he has a ton of talent."
With Ohio State selected as a preseason top-five team, Hawk knows the defense must come through.
"On paper, we have 18 returning starters," he said. "It should be a good year. But we need to come out and prove that and show that we deserve to have that kind of talk. Defensively, we have to get the swagger back. Last year, we didn't quite have that."
While fans and media members have targeted the second game with Texas, Hawk knows the Sept. 3 opener with Miami (Ohio) could be tough.
"Everybody else talks about Texas, but I'm talking about Miami," he said. "You just have to put the film in to see how good they are. My brother played there for two years. I know a lot of their players. Their quarterback, Josh Betts, I grew up playing against him. They have a ton of talent on that team. After the Miami game, we'll start talking about Texas."
And, of course, Hawk and the Buckeyes would like nothing more than to get a chance to represent the Big Ten in the national championship game at the Rose Bowl.
"That would be the dream situation to end up your career at the Rose Bowl playing for the national championship," he said. "If you could, that's how you would write the story. But we know we have some tough games in front of us and we have to take it one game at a time."