Hawk Manages to Stay Humble

He's one of the most recognizable names in college football and is the Big Ten preseason defensive player of the year. But despite all the accolades, Ohio State senior linebacker A.J. Hawk has managed to stay humble. We caught up with Hawk who gave his thoughts on OSU's defense, his older brothers beating up on him and much more.

Senior linebacker A.J. Hawk says Ohio State's defense has worked on the basics thus far in preseason camp. New defensive coordinator Jim Heacock hasn't made any major changes to the defense; he just wants the unit to keep things simple.

"It's not too much of a difference, to tell you the truth," Hawk said. "But, I think we are trying to simplify things – we say that every year – but I think we really are. We're trying to simplify things and say we're trying to get great at a few different defenses. We're not just trying to be good at numerous defenses. We're trying to go out there, line up, play and play fast. Make sure what we do play we're perfect at and we've got all the fundamentals down and we're sound and we've got every gap covered. And that's what I think Coach Heacock has really stressed so far."

But one change that fans should expect to see is more blitzing from the Buckeyes this season.

"Yeah, of course," Hawk said. "When (Heacock) came in day one he said, ‘We want to be an attacking defense and get after the quarterback.' That's what we've been doing so far this camp and we are blitzing more here and there. But obviously we can't blitz every play. Sometimes we're going to have to sit back and play our base defense and get the job done. But yeah, in certain situations we are more attacking."

Camp is beginning to wind down and Ohio State will begin game-planning for Miami University later this week. For players like Hawk, the season can't get here fast enough.

"Oh, I think everyone is ready," he said. "We've been in camp now for a little over two weeks and we feel like we've come pretty far. This is kind of the week when we do start to look at our opponents more and realize that the season is coming. It's not very far away and it's a fun time to be here because there's so much anticipation leading up to camp and now it's starting to wind down. We only have one week left and it's gone really fast. It's unbelievable that the season is already here and I think everyone around Columbus and this whole team… we're ready to play and we feel like we could go play today. We're not perfect, but mentally we feel like we could play."

Hawk was asked to comment on the tight end skills of Bobby Carpenter.

"He's done a pretty good job at tight end," Hawk said. "We've had a couple guys get hurt and I think he'll do fine with that if they keep him there."

Hawk – who racked up 141 tackles last season – is one of the most recognizable names in college football. But you would never know it from talking to him. He's as humble as they come.

He was part of OSU's highly-touted 2002 recruiting class, but he was ranked behind the likes of Mike D'Andrea and Carpenter.

Hawk was asked if he doubted himself at all when he arrived on campus in late July of 2002.

"No, not really," he said. "When I came in, I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't know exactly what position I was playing – they didn't really tell me much coming in. I kind of realized early on when I came in I wanted to try and make a name for myself early in practice and show that I could be physical if nothing else. I came in and had a couple decent scrimmages, I think, and got some playing time early behind Cie Grant and that really helped me get my confidence going. And obviously when you're playing with the type of players I had around me, it could only help."

Hawk doesn't like talking about himself. He would much rather talk about his teammates or coaches. It's a refreshing attitude from an athlete – especially one as visible as Hawk.

"I don't know, I think with dealing with people, I kind of grew up my whole life as the underdog of my two older brothers (Matt, 27 and Ryan, 24)," Hawk said. "I had two guys older than me that would beat on me and let me know that I wasn't much compared to them. And they are still like that. I still would never fight my oldest brother. I was telling him the other day that he's a pretty big guy now. He's not real muscular, but he's big now. But I still wouldn't mess with him. He was a high school wrestler and football player and I think guys like that keep you humble. Being around them everyday and realizing that I'm still a little brother to them."

If he turns in the season many are expecting, Hawk's name will go down next to the likes of Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, Marcus Marek, Chris Spielman and Pepper Johnson as one of the best linebackers to play at OSU.

But Hawk says he does not put himself in that class, at least not yet.

"No, I think that's too hard to think about right now," he said. "Because you grow up hearing about those guys, watching them on TV, seeing their highlights. It's unbelievable, those guys are like you idols, especially as a linebacker growing up and watching those guys. And I've got to meet some of them being here and that helps a lot. They try and teach me not only what to do on the field, but how to act off the field and how to handle everything.

"I don't know, that would be a huge honor, but you can't say anything like that right now. I think a great start would be coming out and trying to go 12-0 as a team. I think that would help everyone on this team be named with guys like that."

For the last few years, Ohio State's offensive players have mentioned that it makes them better going against one of the nation's best defenses everyday in practice. Well, the time has finally come when OSU's defense can give the same type of compliment to the offense.

"Yeah, our offense is tough to stop," Hawk said. "They throw so many different things at you. They can put two tight ends in and pound the ball and run the ball on you. They can also spread you out and put five wide and throw the ball to guys like Ted Ginn, Santonio (Holmes) and Tony Gonzalez, guys like that. So, they can do so many different things and it's tough on the defense. Coach Heacock always tells us that it makes us better going against a great offense everyday."

Just what goes through Hawk's mind when he sees Ginn coming at him?

"Well, obviously we want to get him down, but he's tough," he said. "If you get Ted the ball in the open field and give him any type of space, it's tough to stop him. That's why he's on some Heisman watch lists and why he's one of the most explosive players in the game right now."

The Buckeyes have seven seniors and four juniors starting on defense. Not only are they talented, they're battle-tested.

"It can only help having that much experience," Hawk said. "I think that's one of the biggest things that people don't see when the normal fan watches a football game. They don't see the chemistry that teams have. So far this camp, you have an idea of what guys are going to do around you. Guys that we came in with like Nate Salley, Bobby Carpenter and basically it's like (Anthony) Schlegel came in with us – we feel like that. If you talk to people, they might say it's almost like we know what each other is thinking. I don't think it goes that far, but we do have an idea and we trust each other as teammates and we know if I do my job, the guy next to me is going to do his and we shouldn't have anything to worry about then."

Ohio State was just 8-4 last season, but will still begin the season ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll. Hawk thinks the ranking is well-deserved, despite the somewhat rough 2004 campaign.

"I've said it before, if you look at us on paper with 18 returning starters and they look at guys and see guys like Ted Ginn and Troy Smith and Justin Zwick and Santonio Holmes and the explosive offense force we can have, that's how we do get a lot of respect from the media and all the polls," Hawk said. "If you think about it, if you look at it, we should be good, but we know we have to come out and prove that. When it comes down to it, we were 8-4 last year and we know we didn't get it done and this year we have to. We have gotten some respect from the polls and we need to make sure we back that up."

Hawk was asked if he views himself as the "quarterback" of the defense.

"I don't know if you could say that," he said. "You can't really say that because all three of us linebackers are in there at the same time and we all have an understanding of the defense and have been there for a while. We can all make the calls and stuff like that. But also in the backend with guys like Nate Salley and Donte (Whitner) they know everything that's going on too. So, on a defense like this, I don't think we have one per se quarterback of the defense. It's kind of everybody that came in together that's keeping everything going."

Hawk, Carpenter and Schlegel are close friends. But they don't have too many similarities outside of football.

"Well, obviously I think you've got three completely different personalities when you look at me, Bobby and Schlegel," Hawk said. "It's not too hard to tell. We were joking with Schlegel about it – we were reading the media guide – and it said he was the ‘free spirit' of the team and all this stuff, acting like he was a hippy and all this stuff. But Schlegel is a guy that everyone respects. He's 24 years old he's kind of like our dad – we look up to him. We make sure that we go to him for advice if we need something. He's been around – he's been in college now for six years – so he knows what's going on. If we need any help we go to him. He's the one who keeps guys loose and he's having fun.

"And Bobby, everyone knows that he's a great player and a physical freak and he can do everything. And he also likes to have a lot of fun and joke around with the guys. But he knows when to be serious and that's why I think this defense has so much fun is because we do have so many different personalities that come together and it works. A lot of times when you have guys with different personalities coming together it's not going to work and guys will bicker and fight. But, for us, it feels like it comes together and kind of jells and everyone feeds off of each other."

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