The former All-American from Ohio State University ranks fifth on the school's career-record list with 394 tackles. And he enjoyed a spectacular rookie season with Green Bay as he recorded 121 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions in 16 games.
Hawk talked to me this week about his NFL Draft experience, settling in with the Packers, and the rapid improvement of their defense during this exclusive Scout.com interview.
Chris Steuber: When did you think you were an NFL caliber player?
A.J. Hawk: That’s a great question. I don’t know exactly. It was never really a reasonable thought until maybe the end of my junior year and into my senior year of college when I was thinking I’d have a chance at playing in the pros.
CS: Was there one moment or a time where someone told you that you were going to make it to the next level?
Hawk: It wasn’t one moment. It was me seeing how many NFL players I played with at Ohio State. I was thinking, while I was at Ohio State, that if I do things right while I’m here, Ohio State does a great job of putting players in position to get to the NFL. And when they get there, they play pretty well.
CS: What were all the offseason workouts and the NFL Scouting Combine like for you, and what did you learn?
Hawk: I learned a lot from it. I learned how to prepare myself for different situations. I think at the Combine they try to get you out of your comfort zone and keep you up all day doing interviews and events. You have to run your 40, run your drills, benching, interviews all night. They just want to see how you react when there’s a little adversity thrown at you. The biggest thing I learned was how to handle adversity at the time. Obviously I had some (adversity) at Ohio State as well. There’re always ups and downs, but at the Combine you have to take it in stride, make sure you’re prepared, and let everything you’ve been doing speak for itself.
CS: What did you think of the Wonderlic test?
Hawk: It was fine. They only give you 12 minutes to complete it. It was a lot better than taking the ACT or SAT; that thing was three or four hours. The Wonderlic wasn’t too bad. I honestly didn’t do anything to prepare for it. I didn’t take any practice tests or anything. It was basically common sense. I just went into it with the mindset of finishing it and answering every question.
CS: Was there any particular question you shook your head at and asked yourself, “What does this have to do with football?”
Hawk: Oh, there are plenty of them, man; probably the whole test didn’t have anything to do with football. But I guess it shows how you can think under pressure and how you respond to certain questions. There’re a lot of different math type situations and reading problems where you have to figure them out pretty quick. I didn’t have too big of a problem with it. If I didn’t know an answer, I just guessed and moved on to the next one.
CS: What was draft day like for you?
Hawk: It was a good day. I was around a lot of my family and friends. I just took it all in, because it was out of my hands at that point. I had no control over it. I had already done all the work I could. I met with teams and coaches and owners. I knew I couldn’t do anything more, so I was just sitting back and enjoying the day.
CS: Did you have an idea of where you were going to end up?
Hawk: I honestly didn’t know at all. I heard I may go anywhere from No. 5 to 25 in the first round. I don’t know if anyone really had an idea where I was going to go. The Packers really kept it a secret. I didn’t even visit with the Packers before the draft. I visited with four or five other teams, and the Packers were not one of them.
CS: During the whole process was there a team that showed more interest in you than another team?
Hawk: Not really. The teams that I visited, they were all pretty similar visits. Whether I went out to lunch with a coaching staff or met with an owner or the GM and just talked, none of them gave me any indication to whether they liked me or not (laughs). They kind of just get you in there and want to see you in person. The want to see what you look like and what kind of guy you are. They just want to get to know you a little bit better.
CS: How were the one-on-one interviews with the different teams you met with?
Hawk: I enjoyed them. They just want you to be yourself and answer questions truthfully. Some guys try to get trained for those interviews. Some guys go to acting classes and do all kinds of stuff. I didn’t do any of that, because I didn’t want to go in there with trained answers. They know when a guy is putting on an act. I just went in there and tried to be myself and treat it like a conversation and not an interview. I think they respected that approach.
CS: Did they have you draw up some plays and see what your thoughts were in certain situations?
Hawk: Yeah, some teams had me draw up some of my favorite plays. I drew up certain plays and talked about a play that happened when I was in college. But I actually didn’t do a whole lot of that.
CS: When the Packers drafted you, what were your initial thoughts?
Hawk: It was a great feeling. I was hoping the Packers were going to take me the whole time. I got lucky to come to Green Bay because not only is it a great organization, but I was lucky enough to be drafted high and go to a great organization. The Packers are never drafting that high, they just had an off year. I just got lucky and came out at the right time.
CS: Coming from Ohio State, a school with great tradition, and being drafted by the Packers, who also have a rich tradition, did that make the transition easier for you?
Hawk: I think it was an easy transition. The first thing I realized when I got to Green Bay that it reminded me so much of Ohio State. The atmosphere and the people are just the same. The people in Green Bay are the same as the people in Columbus. They love the Packers. They want to live it every single day. The Packers are all that they have here. They come to all the games and they support us. Everyone is really nice around here, and it’s really similar to where I come from.
CS: Is Green Bay your home or is it just a place that you work six months out of the year?
Hawk: This is my home. I have a place here. I don’t have a place anywhere else. This is where we’re living. We stay here pretty much all offseason. We go back and forth every once in a while to Ohio to see family and friends, but that’s it. We don’t leave here when the season ends.
CS: Your draft experience compared to your brother-in-law’s draft experience was totally night and day. What did you say, if anything at all, to Brady (Quinn) during that time?
Hawk: During the whole process I didn’t say a whole lot. I think everyone was in his ear trying to say something. He just wanted to get away from people in general and just play football. But afterwards, I think it all worked out perfectly. He went to Cleveland, and he was excited for minicamp. He’s an Ohio kid, and it couldn’t have worked out any better.
CS: Were you rooting for him to be drafted by Detroit so you guys could meet twice a year?
Hawk: Not really, to tell you the truth. Our media guys were joking with me about that before the draft, and they didn’t really want it to happen either, because they didn’t want to deal with that circus twice a year. Brady’s a great player and playing him once in college was enough for me. I don’t want to have to face him too many times.
CS: What was your toughest transition from the college ranks to the NFL?
Hawk: The game isn’t too much different, you can make it more of a mental game. But I think you learn how to study the game better and you learn a few tricks from guys who’ve played in the league for a while. There are a lot of savvy veterans up here that know how to get things done, and they know how to use less energy during the game so you don’t get worn out at the end. People always talk about the speed of the game, and it’s probably the biggest thing, but I think it’s just a different type of atmosphere. Teams are being turned over so much every year and you’re losing guys and gaining guys, it’s different than college. When you’re in college, you know the guys you’re with and you know what year they are and that they’re going to stick with you and they’re not going anywhere. But with free agency, trades, and everything going on, the [NFL] team’s going to be a little different every year.
Hawk walking with his wife Laura the day after the draft.
CS: How much more magnified is the media attention in the NFL compared to college?
Hawk: Although we’re in Green Bay, we still are a big media market here. The media is always around. There is a big step from college; you’re less accessible (in college). When we were in college, we had one day a week when we would talk to the media, and they would talk to us a little bit after the games. Here, they’re in the locker room every single day. They’re around everywhere. The game of the NFL is growing; it’s a big game and the media is just a way to communicate with the fans.
CS: Looking back, is there one thing you would change during your rookie season and do over again?
Hawk: There are obviously some plays I would have liked to have made. There were a few interceptions and a few dumb rookie mistakes I’d like to have back. But other than that I don’t have too many regrets. I think I learned a lot, especially from guys on this team, about how to handle myself as a professional.
CS: What’s your biggest off-the-field demand, besides doing the media part?
Hawk: I’m lucky and blessed with a great family that’s really supportive. I’m married, and my wife goes to all the games. My parents come to pretty much every single game, home and away. I know a lot of guys talk about the outside pressures they have, sometimes from family members who’re asking for certain things, but my family has been great. I have to give everyone credit in my family, not only my immediate family, but my extended family as well. They’ve all been great for me, and I don’t feel any outside pressure other than football.
CS: Can you explain the rapid growth the Packers defense has gone through? Is it because of players maturing and developing their game or is it a combination of things?
Hawk: I think it’s a combination of everything. With the type of defense we play, communication, playing off of each other and being together helps out so much. Being together all offseason has really helped us out that much more to get familiar with everyone. We’ve been in the system for over a year now, and everyone feels pretty comfortable, and guys get along on and off the field, and that shows when we take the field. We want to be a great defense, and we’re trying to take the steps to get even better.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.