A.J. Hawk (47) helps stop Northwestern's Ray Bogenrief. Hawk has led Ohio State in tackles the past two seasons.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
COLUMBUS - A.J. Hawk is having too much fun at Ohio State.
The All-America linebacker is in no hurry to leave.
Hawk said he never gave much thought to entering the NFL draft a year early, although some draft experts had him rated as a possible first-round pick.
And he is not worried about the big bucks that he may have passed up.
Hawk's only focus is on getting himself prepared for a big senior year.
"I really haven't given it [the NFL] much thought lately," he said.
"That seems so far out of the picture now. I've been looking forward to my senior year for so long. We have 18 starters coming back, so this is going to be a fun place to be around.
"I feel like I am still pretty young. I'm not mentally or physically mature enough to play at the next level."
Some NFL scouts and general managers might beg to differ.
In early March, three months after Hawk announced he would return for his final season, he stole the show during Ohio State's annual Pro Day workouts for senior prospects and up-and-coming underclassmen.
The 6-1, 238-pound Hawk eliminated any previous doubts that may have existed about his speed, having been clocked in the 40-yard dash from 4.46 to 4.50 seconds.
"I did a little bit better than even I expected to do," he said.
"With any luck, I'll be able to duplicate those times again next year."
Hawk, rated as one of the top 25 players in the country by several preseason publications, is the backbone of the Buckeyes' defense.
He will be a leading candidate for the three major defensive awards, including the Butkus, Lombardi and Bednarik hardware.
"A.J. Hawk is a special player," coach Jim Tressel said. "He still has some things left to accomplish at Ohio State."
Hawk, a two-time All-Big Ten pick, has led the Buckeyes in tackles each of the last two years. His 141 tackles a year ago were the most by an OSU player since Chris Spielman's 156 in 1986.
"It's no secret that our defense revolves around A.J. Hawk," defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. "He is a great playmaker."
Hawk, a two-year starter who backed up Cie Grant as a freshman on the Buckeyes' national championship team in 2002, is one of nine starters returning on defense for Ohio State, which won five of its last six games to finish 8-4.
The Buckeyes, who will hold their annual spring game April 23, have much higher goals in mind this season.
"Everyone in Columbus and everyone around the country that is an Ohio State fan, has high expectations for us," Hawk said. "So do our coaches and so do the players. We're all excited.
"Every season, the national championship is a goal for us. That's the great part about being at Ohio State. We know if we win all of our games, we're going to go to the national championship game. At some other schools, that's not true."
Hawk anchors a heralded linebacking group that includes Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Schlegel and Mike D'Andrea, who is recovering from knee surgery.
"I think we have a chance to be a really good defense," Hawk said. "We just have to make sure we don't go backward and we keep progressing."
Contact Ron Musselman at: email@example.com or 419-724-6474.