Thursday, October 2, 2003

Hawk proving to be Buckeyes' latest LB star


Spielman: Soph. in mold of OSU greats

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - Even Chris Spielman heard the talk about A.J. Hawk being "the next Spielman."

So the former Ohio State great sought out the sophomore linebacker Friday for a half-hour chat, coming away impressed with Hawk's humble nature.

"If he can hold up that tradition, that's all he wants to do," Spielman said.

"I don't want him to be the next Chris Spielman. I want him to be the A.J. Hawk. Make your own name."

Hawk is doing fine in that regard. In his first year starting, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder from Centerville leads the team with 47 tackles, 17 more than the next-closest player. He also leads OSU with 7 1/2 tackles for loss, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has two sacks.

He was named Big Ten co-defensive player of the week after a career-high 13 tackles Saturday against Northwestern. He has 25 tackles in the past two games.

"His progress has been outstanding, and to me, the best part about it is he wants it to be even better," coach Jim Tressel said.

At this early stage, the ball-hawking Hawk is seemingly the latest in the line of star Buckeyes linebackers that includes Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, Pepper Johnson, Spielman, Steve Tovar, Andy Katzenmoyer and Matt Wilhelm.

Yet Hawk is quick to defuse any hype campaigns.

"If I have any kind of personal success here, at least 99 percent I have to attribute to the defensive line in front of me," he said. "We have the best 'D' line in the country, in my mind.

"... (It) makes me feel like there's no one blocking me at times. They eat up all the blockers and just let me run around and play."

This isn't humble pie. He's right. Hawk isn't this team's best defender or top pro prospect - yet - but his stats have been gaudy and his youth fuels the promise of bigger things.

"The coaches put him in position to make plays, and he doesn't miss a lot of tackles," Spielman said. "He makes his plays within the scheme. And his success is directly related to the success of the people in front of him.

"He's doing his job on maybe the best defense in the country."

Hawk led all freshmen in tackles last year with 26 in a part-time role behind Cie Grant and has shown this season his ability to be in on big plays.

He returned an interception 55 yards against North Carolina State, then teamed with Will Allen on the game-saving tackle on the final play of that game. And on Allen's 100-yard interception return against San Diego State, Hawk threw a block downfield that knocked over two defenders and sprung Allen for the score.

"I just try to be around the ball, and good things happen," Hawk said.

Tressel refers to that as Hawk "diagnosing" the offense. Spielman calls that ability instinctual.

"He's natural, has good instincts, gets his body in the right position," Spielman said. "A lot of those things can't be taught."

There's little worry about Hawk having to tackle his own ego. He and Spielman talked about the gravity of Hawk's pursuit of a place among the school's greats.

"I tried to hold up the standards the guys before me set, and he grasps that responsibility," Spielman said. "He's in a position to reap the rewards."

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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