Scary – but in a good way (Column)

Tania Ganguli

COLUMBUS, Ohio –

Linebackers are crazy, linebackers are scary and linebackers are badasses.

And nobody is a bigger badass than A.J. Hawk.

At the end of this season, the pride of the Big Ten will be gone. It’s amazing how many unreal linebackers this conference has grown, and at the very least, seven will be gone after this season.

Three from Ohio State, two from Iowa and one each from Penn State and Northwestern.

None of those guys will be missed more by his school and his fans than Ohio State’s A.J. Hawk.

Ohio State linebackers Anthony Schlegel, Hawk and Bobby Carpenter are the Three Musketeers of Ohio State with the same long stringy hairstyle and on-the-field dominance. All for one, one for all, and get out of our way or we’ll make you pay for standing there.

When Schlegel went to Columbus on his recruiting trip, before he transferred from Air Force, he saw Hawk and Carpenter working out alone.

“I thought, ‘These guys are just like me,'” said Schlegel, in a headband and fatigues after the game. On the field, yes, all three of them are tough and relentless. Off the field, Schlegel’s got the charisma, Carpenter has the sincerety and Hawk – Hawk is still a badass.

He sat at the post-game press conference, his nose dented with battle scars, next to free safety Nate Salley and stared straight ahead, decidedly directing his answers to the air in front of him. The slit on his face where mortals’ mouths are, cracked into a thin, childlike grin when the inevitable question came about that crazy special teams touchdown he scored.

It was the same grin he sported as he stood with his teammates near the O-Block (student section) and greeted his adoring fans. I think it would have been appropriate if Hawk stood on top the jumbotron and screamed “I AM A GOLDEN GOD,” Russell Hammond style. Because he most definitely is in Columbus. I feel like if he did that and then jumped off the jumbotron, he wouldn’t have crashed to the ground. Instead, wings would sprout out of his back and he’d fly to safety. I’m pretty sure that’s what everyone at Ohio Stadium would have expected, too.

Hawk wasn’t emotional about Senior Day, “it’s not over,” he said dismissively, already thinking about Michigan. His mom’s tears didn’t faze him, “she’s been crying for six months.”

While Schlegel and Carpenter look like the kind of guys who would, off the field, politely ask a Michigan fan poking them with a stick to please stop, Hawk looks like the guy who wouldn’t think twice before breaking the stick and throwing it like a javelin through the poker.

Hawk is why Ohio State fields the conference’s most formidable defense – this one’s better than Penn State’s. That’s just the kind of impact an awe-inspiring linebacker can have on a team.

Tim McGarigle does it, on a smaller scale, for NU. Every young defensive player looks up to McGarigle, and he’s got the leadership to quarterback the defense effectively. He didn’t have a banner day against Ohio State, but no one on NU’s defense did. It’s difficult to make a lot of tackles when your opponents rarely have more than 50 yards to go for a touchdown (thank you, special teams).

That’s the same thing Hawk brings to Ohio State. Schlegel pointed out that despite his toughness, he makes himself available to any younger player that needs help or gets confused. Plus, he’s the best linebacker in college football, the best Randy Walker has ever seen and if McGarigle scares Walker on the sidelines, Hawk must paralyze him.

Hawk was a little disappointed with his performance Saturday – he said he’d missed a couple tackles on Tyrell Sutton. But when I heard 100,000 people chanting A-J-HAWK in unison as he left the field one last time, I got chills. Nobody in that stadium felt anything close to disappointment about Hawk’s performance, only disappointment they were losing him.

For the linebacker, this clearly isn’t the end of anything. His voice was set on next week, next month, next year. As the student section chanted “one more year” to their seniors, NU quarterback Brett Basanez jogged off the field and turned his head and looked over at the gathering, where Hawk and his fellow seniors soaked up their moment. In an interview at the beginning of the season, Basanez told Athlon Sports the best player he’d ever played against was current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

He might want to reconsider.

Sports Editor Tania Ganguli is a Weinberg senior. The Tania Ganguli can be reached at [email protected]