Then a funny thing happened -- Hawk showed up in Columbus. Or, more correctly, a true freshman by the name of Ross Homan stepped in and forcefully reminded the crowd, reporters, and perhaps even the coaches of No. 47.
On a day where the Scarlet burned brightly as a unit, Homan's flame rose above perhaps all others with the exception of star quarterback Troy Smith. Just a true freshman, he has been on campus for only 14 weeks, but Homan led his defensive unit in tackles with 8, adding a sack for good measure.
Said head coach Jim Tressel, "I think Ross Homan is going to be very good, and has been showing that since he has been here."
How is that for an understatement?
Of course, one must always be cognizant that this is just a glorified scrimmage. It isn't a game, and it certainly isn't a marquee match up against Texas, Iowa, or Penn State. Bam Childress made a career out of stealing the spotlight in the Spring Game, but his abilities never truly translated to regular season stardom.
Evidence points to Homan not falling prey to the same pitfalls.
Like Hawk before him, he was a tackling machine during high school. A starter since his freshman season, teams went out of their way to avoid running in his direction. Yet he tallied over 500 stops through his junior season and added another 119 as a senior while leading Coldwater to a state championship.
According to Tressel, "Homan has been very productive from day one. Now that position is productive in the nature of our defense. Cie Grant was productive; A.J. Hawk was productive. In the design of our defense that position is going to have an opportunity to make plays. Now can you make them? Ross Homan can make them."
Can he ever.
In a tight game, every play, every tackle is critical. Lining up the players on the defense, he found himself in the thick of the action when the Gray drove down the field just before the end of the first half. They were attempting to score following a failed onside kick by the Scarlet, and it looked as though they might succeed when quarterback Todd Boeckman connected with Roy Hall inside the five yard line. The Scarlet defense had to stiffen and rally; Homan led the charge. After two incomplete passes, Boeckman kept the football on an option pitch. The freshman linebacker was all that stood between the 6-5, 235 lb signal caller and the goal line. Boeckman lost the battle. He was force fed the turf at the one yard line by a player nearly three years his junior. A failed quarterback sneak on fourth down ended the half.
Yet the Gray didn't give up.
They fought and clawed their way through the third and early fourth quarters to threaten one last time. They sought to wrest control of the game from the Scarlet and with just seven minutes remaining almost succeeded. A dropped pass in the end zone by tight end Marcel Frost wounded them deeply, but Boeckman still had a chance with fourth and 5 deep inside Scarlet territory...that is until Homan showed up (again) in a foul mood. When Gholston flushed the Gray quarterback from the peaceful confines of his pocket protection, it was Homan who cut through the line of scrimmage like a hot knife in butter and sacked Boeckman to the delight of the crowd and his teammates.
The Gray would not seriously threaten to upset Scarlet dominance again.
For his part, Homan was relatively pleased with his performance: "Overall I came into today, (and) I knew I was going to make mistakes and everything, but the main thing coach Fickell pointed out to me was to compete. I thought I competed well today. I think I did pretty good today."
Perhaps it is a positive to see a fresh-faced teenage linebacker with a little humility instead of a budding star with more pride than a peacock. Homan knows he is good and understands his potential, but he also seems to grasp the amount of hard road that still must be traveled. He is still getting his feet wet, learning the defensive schemes, and adjusting to the speed of the game.
So when no less than three reporters asked him at separate times about being compared to A.J. Hawk or being dubbed ‘the next A.J. Hawk,' his reaction was, "I'm very honored to be labeled as that, but I'm just going to try to be as good as A.J. because I don't if I will ever be as good as A.J., but I'm very honored to be in that category."
Far from swelling his head, Homan declared this would simply make him work harder to guard that trust and to accomplish his goals.
He wants to start. He doesn't want to start in a year or two; he wants to start now. He wants to lay claim to the starting position. He isn't going to take no for an answer and viewed today as an opportunity to interview for Hawk's old job.
He pointed out, "We have all these people leaving, especially on defense, that we have all these new, young guys coming out competing for jobs. When you are competing for jobs against somebody else it makes you play better. That was the key for today. You go out there and show everyone what you can do. Either you do good or you do bad. It's all on the line today."
With it all on the line, Homan held the line.
Again, it is admittedly early. This young man has logged just 14 weeks in college. Many a player turned out to be a flash in the pan after being labeled the next great (fill in the name of your star of choice) linebacker or tailback or quarterback. Injuries, poor attitudes, lousy academic efforts, and even horrible luck derail most. Some even turn out to become cautionary tales.
Still, if the Spring Game is any indication, Homan is on his way to reaching his goals.
Even coach Tressel, who is not one to heap effusive praise on a younger player remarked, "Ross Homan has, I think if you ask any guy on our team what is your impression of Ross Homan in his first four weeks on campus – well I guess he was here in the winter and had a 3.7, so his first 14 weeks on campus – is extraordinary."
Homan wouldn't have it any other way.