OHIO STATE Buckeyes' top linebacker continues OSU tradition
Junior A.J. Hawk is just the latest in a long line of top Buckeye 'backers.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
FORT WORTH, Texas -- With a name such as A.J. Hawk, he has to be a linebacker. And the Ohio State junior is well on his way to continuing a tradition of top Buckeyes 'backers.
When he signed with Ohio State, his fellow classmates were Mike D'Andrea, Stan White Jr., and Bobby Carpenter. All were considered better players, but Hawk has developed into the star and full-time starter.
"I did not realize I was slow until I got here," Hawk said of how recruiting analysts downgraded him. "I never got into the Internet ratings and all the recruiting lists. I figured it would boil down to talent. If you had talent, you were going to play."
After playing as a reserve for the Buckeyes' 2002 national championship team, Hawk stepped in last season as a starter. He helped replace All-American Matt Wilhelm, whose departure didn't hurt Ohio State's run defense. With Hawk making a team-high 106 tackles, the Buckeyes finished second nationally, allowing only 62.3 yards a game on the ground.
Hawk deflected the praise he received, which included being selected first-team All-Big Ten Conference and defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl. He credited the play of Ohio State's defensive line, which must replace three starters from last season's 11-2 team.
"Our defense this year has a lot to live up to," said Hawk, who was selected by the media as Big Ten preseason defensive player of the year. "We are excited to get out there and prove to people we still got it."
With inexperience at quarterback and on the offensive line, Ohio State will again have to rely on its defense to keep games close. That formula has worked the past two seasons as the Buckeyes have gone 26-2.
"A.J. Hawk's position is such that he needs to make a lot of plays for us," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "I don't care what schemes we're running, what stunts, what blitz, whatever. The weakside linebacker position is the one that needs to make plays.
"His progress has been outstanding, and to me, the best part about it is he wants it to be even better."