As A.J. Hawk stood at the podium in front of a room full of media on Saturday night at Lambeau Field, he seemed every bit as humble and thankful as other Packers' No. 1 draft picks upon their arrival to Green Bay. He said all the right things about checking his ego and becoming a team player. He vowed unselfishly to help the Packers win, first and foremost. Hawk has a quiet confidence about himself and ability similar to many great players, but any kind of brashness or signs of him being outspoken certainly is not evident, which is refreshing. Especially from a guy considered by many as the best defensive player in the NFL draft.
Hawk has earned a ton of national recognition since the end of his final year at Ohio State. He won the Lombardi Trophy and was all-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He just missed winning the Butkus Award, finishing as runner up to Penn State's Paul Posluszny. Hawk, selected with the fifth overall pick, the highest a linebacker selected since LaVar Arrington went No. 2 overall in 2000, could have rode into little Green Bay high on his horse with his chest sticking out, looking down his nose at anybody and everybody.
Well, Hawk's chest was sticking out under his tailored new suit when he walked on stage in the Lambeau Field auditorium, but only because he's built like a fire hydrant. He was invited to watch the draft from NFL headquarters in New York, along with other projected top picks, but instead declined and stayed at his parents' home with family and friends in Centerville, Ohio, and "like everyone else watched the draft as a fan." Hawk could have soaked in the limelight in the Big Apple on the biggest day of the off-season in the NFL. He chose, however, to swap the Green Room for his parents living room and celebrate another milestone as quietly as possible.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel told Packers general manager Ted Thompson before the draft that he felt Green Bay is the best place for Hawk, and Green Bay's new linebacker agrees. For a humble guy like Hawk, there's no place like the smallest market in all of major sports.
"I was really hoping, to tell you the truth," Hawk said. "The rest of my family was as well."
Again, those could just be words from a guy who is thrilled to be in the NFL, but it certainly seems like Hawk means it based on previous acts of humbleness. Prior to the draft, the Packers public relations department released a few tidbits about Hawk's humbleness. Consider this from the release:
-- Hawk instructed his parents not to cheer for him while he was in high school (Centerville, Ohio), although they could clap if his team scored a touchdown;
-- Hawk never wore his high school varsity jacket because he did not want to seem "big time."
-- He refused to let Buckeyes photographers take a new media guide head-and-shoulders photo of him after his freshman year because he did not want to give up precious rest time between two-a-day August practices.
-- He requested that an inch be taken off his Ohio State roster height (from 6-2 to 6-1). "I don't ever want to meet somebody and they go, ‘You're not as tall as I thought you'd be,' he told his father, Keith.
-- On Senior Day, Hawk was the only Buckeye to greet his parents with his helmet on. That was the rule in high school – helmets stay on! "He doesn't like anything false," says his father, Keith. "Nothing false, he wants it all to be better. He wants to give something better than anyone expects."
So what's up with Hawk's long hair? He and other teammates at Ohio State grew out their hair last year not just because they were in college and they could. Instead, it was a symbol of respect for former Arizona Cardinal safety Pat Tillman, who died in combat April 22, 2004 while serving the United States as an Army Ranger.
"We have a lot of respect for what he stood for and just kept it going and now I'm kind of used to it (the long hair)," Hawk said. "We have a lot of respect for Pat Tillman and his whole family."
Hawk has respect for his own family as well. He has two older brothers and looks up to them. His older brother, Ryan, was the starting quarterback at Ohio University (2001-04) and currently plays in the Arena Football League. They always keep in touch.
"Like most little brothers, I grew up chasing them and respect what they did. I've tried to be like them my whole life," Hawk said.
Hawk, by all appearances, seems firmly grounded. He appears to have his head on straight, which means he probably won't change much when the bottom line of his bank account goes off the charts after he signs his first pro contract. He is engaged to be married on March 17, 2007, to Laura Quinn, the sister of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. That's got to be a match made in heaven for Hawk, who has been playing football since the second grade.
"She's been great," Hawk said. "She's going to help me not only with living arrangements, but with the football part of the game. She loves football and so do I."
After listening to Hawk for just a few minutes, it is obvious that he's all about football, but also will never forget where he came from and how he got to football's biggest stage. That's why it's no surprise – and not just chatter – that Green Bay is the right place for him. He can focus on football and excel in front of the most loyal and enthusiastic of fans in the NFL.
"With the history and tradition they have here, it's unbelievable," Hawk said. "Coming from Ohio State with the tradition and fans they have there, I knew if I had a choice this is the place I'd rather be. You couldn't ask anything more of the fans. Everyone here wants to win and they expect to win. That's how it was for me in Columbus and that's how I think it is here."
Hawk has the attitude and desire to do well in the NFL. His humbleness will make him that much greater. So far, he's off to a great start.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.