Hawk tuning up for Ohio State spring game

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 23, 2004

COLUMBUS - A.J. Hawk will never be one of those workers who calls in sick and then sneaks out for a round of golf.

To begin with, the stubby, thick-necked Hawk doesn't appear to be a candidate to win a PGA Tour card any time soon. On top of that, the junior linebacker from Centerville doesn't like to acknowledge that he is ever unhealthy.

''You grow up never missing anything and then you come here and it's tough to sit around and watch the guys,'' Hawk said last week after a tuneup for Saturday's annual Ohio State spring game. ''Now I'm one of the older guys. It's just tough having to watch everyone out there.''

Email newsletter signup

Hawk had a monster year in 2003 when he led the Buckeyes with 106 tackles. He also had four sacks, two interceptions and 13 tackles for negative yardage.

Even as he was piling up those impressive stats, however, his knees were hurting. He had surgery in January to repair the damage, which limited his work this spring.

That did not sit well with Hawk.

''Luckily they've let me do a little bit more than I thought I was going to be allowed to do,'' he said with an edge to his voice. ''Coming into the spring, they told me, 'We're not going to let you hit at all.' But they've seen that I feel good and I want to run around. I've been able to hit. Most of the time at practice they let me do almost all of the team stuff. They might pull me out here and there when they think I'm doing too much.''

The thing is, Hawk usually does too much. He's like a pinball, bouncing off blockers and ball carriers until the whistle blows. He is in almost constant motion during even inconsequential practices, encouraging teammates, sacking quarterbacks and shadowing receivers.

So much for limiting his work during the spring.

''I don't know how the heck you could ever keep him from going out there every chance he gets,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. ''I might hide his shoulder pads.''

That isn't so far-fetched. When he got stitches on the bridge of his nose last season, the training staff hid Hawk's helmet so he couldn't practice. That ploy didn't work. He found his helmet and stormed off to the field.

Hawk will likely take on added responsibilities this season, since last year's defense was stocked with seniors who had been through countless Big Ten battles. Hawk is a natural choice to make defensive calls.

In fact, Tressel has been riding Hawk to assert himself more with his teammates.

''The one thing that he needs to do is lead,'' Tressel said. ''He needs to become a little more verbal.''

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Hawk recognizes that his voice needs to copy what he's doing with his body - showing the way.

''Look at the great leaders we had last year and the year before. On any great team there's always great leaders,'' Hawk said. ''I'm probably not the most vocal leader, but you've got to lead by example and become more vocal as time goes.

''We'll be all right with the leadership roles.''