Hawk Helps OSU Close Home Slate Right Way

OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk was among 16 seniors who took a final bow before Saturday's game with Northwestern. But Hawk did more than just take a bow. He forced a fumble and recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown in his final home game as a Buckeye.

It was a long time between touchdowns for Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk.

Hawk scored on an interception return against Kent State in his second game at Ohio Stadium in 2002. On Saturday, Hawk gave OSU fans to remember him by with an 8-yard return of a blocked punt for his second career score as the Buckeyes pummeled Northwestern 48-7.

Of course, any OSU fan worth his or her salt would be able to tell you that Hawk, headed for a second All-American season, made hundreds of notable plays for the Buckeyes between his two touchdowns.

"I just want people to think I played hard every day and came out to play and never really took plays off," said Hawk, a native of Centerville, Ohio. "That's what I've tried to do since I was in high school and since I was a little kid."

Hawk made No. 47 a special number at Ohio State as he joined the pantheon of OSU's great linebackers – players with names like Gradishar, Cousineau, Spielman and Katzenmoyer.

"I don't put much stock into it," Hawk said of comparisons to past OSU greats. "Everybody has their opinions. It's an honor in the other way because those guys were such great players and they paved the way for guys like us."

Who did Hawk follow as a youngster?

"I was a big fan of (Andy) Katzenmoyer's growing up," Hawk said. "And a guy like Jerry Rudzinski, he's from my hometown. I loved watching him. I remember Ryan Miller, all of those guys. Katzenmoyer had huge hits. I've gotten to know him since I've been in Columbus and learned a lot from him."

Hawk is one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's top linebacker. He made a strong case for that honor on Saturday. In addition to the blocked punt return, Hawk tallied eight tackles, one sack and also forced a fumble by NU tailback Tyrell Sutton.

"For A.J. to pick up (the blocked punt), you know how all of us feel about A.J.," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "We think he ought to be Butkus Award winner and all the rest of those awards, so to add a touchdown to the resume is pretty neat."

Hawk was asked about what others considered a near-perfect sendoff at the Horseshoe.

"I could have definitely drawn up a little better," he said. "I missed a couple tackles in the open field that I would love to have back. I'd probably give a touchdown back for that. I don't know, it is special, obviously like I said earlier, playing here and getting to come out and play on a defense like this.

"As a defensive guy, you don't get to score touchdowns very often, so when a guy like Quinn Pitcock makes a huge play blocking a punt, I knew not to fall on it, because I knew it was our ball either way, so I was trying to get in the end zone, and it's a great way to go off and I think it gives us momentum going into next week."

Hawk and his teammates fed off last year's overtime loss at Northwestern. At the same time, they knew NU – seventh nationally in total offense at 508.1 yards per game – would give them their best shot.

"Throughout the week, I think you definitely think about what happened last year and how we played because we didn't do as well as we should have," Hawk said. "But for me, at least, once the game starts, it's just another game, and you've got to take it as it is and don't worry about what happened in the past because whether you killed them last year or you got beat. It doesn't matter, it's what happens right now.

"Any time you are playing a team like this, they had put up a ton of points and a bunch of yards on everyone. When you can hold them to seven points, that is a good feeling. But we know next week with Michigan will be a different story."

Hawk joined OSU's 15 other seniors for the pregame festivities. On the field, he greeted his parents and saw his mom was emotional.

"I was all right," Hawk said. "I knew I had a game to get to. But it was an emotional day for everybody, I think."

Some mistake Hawk's easy-going nature as being unemotional. That's wrong, though, he said.

"I never get too high or too low about things," he said. "Sometimes people mistake that for me not having fun out there. But I'm always having fun out there."

He admitted it may take a while to sink in that he will never play another game for the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium.

"I don't think it has hit me completely yet," he said. "I don't think it really can until you're actually done and you're -- you have no games left because we know we still have a big Michigan game next week, so that's the biggest thing on my mind.

"But it is special, you know, coming here and playing and seeing your parents out there on the field, that's a huge day for them. To see my mom cry, it didn't really affect me too much because she's been crying for about six months thinking about this day, but that's how it goes. And it's tough in football, you have to move on, do different things, so I think every one of us, the seniors really appreciate the fans and everything everyone's done because -- I mean, I don't know, I think we all feel lucky to be a part of something like that and want to remember it forever."

When asked what he would miss, Hawk said, "I think most people would tell you you will miss your teammates and the guys you play with. We have a special group that came in together. You can't duplicate that anywhere."

One More Big Day

With his eight tackles, Hawk eclipsed the 100-tackle mark for the third-consecutive season. He leads the Buckeyes 102 stops on the season and now has 375 career stops to rank sixth in Ohio State annals. He trails only Marcus Marek (572 tackles), Tom Cousineau (569), Chris Spielman (546), Steve Tovar (408) and Pepper Johnson (379) in the OSU record book.

Hawk now has 7.5 sacks and 12.0 tackles-for-loss this season. He tied Anthony Schlegel for the team lead Saturday with is eight participations and has led the team in tackles in nine of 10 games (all but Minnesota) this season.

The punt block was Hawk's second career touchdown, joining a 34-yard interception return against Kent State.

On the play, OSU feared a Northwestern fake and left its defense on the field in the Punt Safe formation. Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock broke through the left side of the line and batted Slade Larscheid's punt up in the air.

"We have always been on the Punt Safe," Hawk said. "That is our normal starting defense. Sometimes the other team will relax when our starting defense is there because they think we may not be coming as hard after it. But Quinn did a great job of getting in there and blocking it today. It's good to get into the end zone and that's why it's great to have guys like Quinn Pitcock who can block punts for you. Playing on defense it is not to often that you are able to score."

OSU's Bobby Carpenter batted the blocked punt backwards and Hawk was finally able to corral it at the 8. He rolled toward the goal line and was tackled just after crossing the line.

"It happened so fast," Hawk said. "I saw the ball bouncing. I was outside of Bobby on his right. I saw him fumble with it. I wanted to make sure I picked it up because jumping on it was not going to do us any good. We wanted to advance it and score."

Hawk was asked about his touchdown celebration, which was cut short – just as he raised his arms, he was cut down by an NU player.

"I hadn't scored since my freshman year," Hawk said. "I don't have any planned celebrations. I would be terrible if I tried. I just find my teammates. It's been a while."

Hawk came up big early in the third quarter. With OSU leading 28-7, he tackled NU tailback Tyrell Sutton and forced a fumble. Teammate Ashton Youboty recovered it, paving the way for an OSU field goal.

"I wasn't sure what happened at the time," Hawk said. "He's a powerful little back. I hit him and I think as I was coming down making the tackle, the ball just popped out. Ashton did a good job of getting on it. I was glad it happened."

It looked like OSU was in for a long day early, giving up an 80-yard touchdown march to start the game. But the Buckeyes buckled down after that and held NU scoreless for the remaining 57 minutes.

"We didn't do anything special to stop it," Hawk said. "We just started playing. The long run they had, I was out of my gap and (Sutton) cut back and got 30 yards. The next series we just calmed down and did what we had to do."

Hawk credited the OSU secondary for making play after play against NU's spread passing attack.

"I have to give a ton of credit to our guys on the back end, our corners and safeties," he said. "You guys could see it. They were a team with a bunch of big plays this year. Our guys did a good job of staying over top of them. When our D-line is getting pressure on them, it makes them tough. It gets the quarterback flustered.

"We have a bunch of guys who deserve to be on those (awards) lists and do all of that. Guys like Bobby and Schlegel should be up there. For whatever reason, I got on the list. It is uncomfortable sometimes because there are a lot of guys on our defense that deserve attention like that."

Testimonials Aplenty

Northwestern coach Randy Walker heaped high praise on Hawk following the game, saying, "A.J. Hawk is a special player. I don't think I've seen a player make plays like that."

Hawk's teammates are pulling on him to bring home the Butkus.

"I think the game that made his case was Texas already and everything he's done all season," Schlegel said. "But I think he's the best linebacker in the country. If it were up to me, I'd give it to him because he's my boy. It's been an honor to play with him. I wish everybody could get to watch him play and be alongside him like I have."

Defensive end Mike Kudla added, "Without a doubt, I think A.J. is the best linebacker in college football. He has been one of the best players to play with. It's been great to play with him. He gives 100 percent effort on every down. He's one of those special players. The thing you leave here with is those relationships. To be able to play here with him and Anthony and Bobby has just been kind of an unbelievable situation and something I'll remember forever."

Michigan On His Mind

OSU travels to Michigan next week with a piece of the Big Ten championship at stake. It didn't take long for Hawk, who is 2-1 against Michigan, to start thinking about the Wolverines.

"Once the game's over, just like any other game we're playing, you go straight to the next game, and this week it happens to be Michigan," he said. "We're going there and last time we went there, things didn't turn out the way we would have liked (a 35-21 loss in 2003). So we know we have to get working for that."

Playing your final home game against Northwestern is one thing. But a chance to win at Michigan would be a great way to punctuate a career at Ohio State, Hawk said.

"Playing Michigan is what the whole season leads up to and what everybody talks about," he said. "It's going to be a battle.

"You know your career is ending here at the ‘Shoe but then you know you have a big game at Michigan next week. You can't get too caught up in everything. We play Michigan next week and we have to make sure we're ready for that."

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