A.J. Hawk runs with the ball after intercepting a pass against Texas in September.
COLUMBUS - Back in early August, the media covering the Big Ten named Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk as the preseason defensive player of the year. Next to death and taxes, Hawk is as certain a bet as anyone could make.
Yesterday people died and people paid taxes, and A.J. Hawk was the runaway choice as the conference's defensive player of the year, as selected by both the media and the league's coaches. Hawk played a dominant role in all 11 Ohio State games, so there wasn't much suspense waiting on the announcement.
A pair of quarterbacks, Northwestern's Brett Basanez (media) and Penn State's Michael Robinson (coaches) shared the offensive player of the year honors. Penn State's Joe Paterno was named coach of the year by a media panel. Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton, a running back from Akron, was the freshman of the year.
Hawk finished the season with 109 tackles - his third straight year with more than 100. With 382 tackles in his career, Hawk ranks sixth in Ohio State history, trailing such Buckeye greats as Chris Spielman, Tom Cousineau and Pepper Johnson.
A returning first-team All-American, Hawk left a distinct impression on Michigan coach Lloyd Carr after the Buckeyes won a share of the Big Ten title by beating the Wolverines 25-21 last weekend.
"Hawk is just a great player," Carr said Monday. "Hawk made some plays in that game that only a great player will make."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel knows exactly what he has in Hawk, one of three finalists for the Butkus Award that goes to the nation's top linebacker.
"A.J. is a big part of what we do on defense - he always is, and we're lucky to have him," Tressel said. "He's a tremendous linebacker and a tremendous leader. He's everything you could ever hope for."
Hawk became the third Buckeye in the last four years to win the Big Ten award as the top defensive player. Will Smith in 2003 and Michael Doss in 2002 both claimed the honor.
Hawk, a 6-1, 240-pound criminology major from Centerville is the only player in the conference to rank among the top five in tackles (5th at 9.9 per game), sacks (4th with 7.5) and tackles for loss (4th with 13.0). He directed an Ohio State defense that led the Big Ten in most major categories.
"I've been coaching for 30 years, and I've never seen anyone better than A.J. Hawk," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said after Hawk helped Ohio State hold Northwestern to just 98 rushing yards. "A.J. Hawk is a special player. I don't think I've seen a player make plays like that."
"It seemed like everywhere I turned, there was Hawk," Sutton said following that game.
Hawk remains predictably humble about the honors he receives, the awards he is in contention to win, and his name being mentioned with OSU greats such as Spielman, Cousineau and Andy Katzenmoyer.
"It's flattering to be mentioned with them," Hawk said, "because they're such great players and they paved the way for guys like us."
Tressel, who will have his final game with Hawk as part of the OSU defense in a yet to-be-determined bowl in a little over a month, said that nothing Hawk does surprises him.
"I think you learn, when you're around A.J., not to imagine," Tressel said. "He's amazing. All he does is work. He loves it, loves practice, loves the weight room, loves to hit people. Someone who loves their job and works at their job and happens to have a lot of talent in their job - you ought not be surprised at what they can accomplish."
Hawk was joined as a first-team all-Big Ten pick, by both the media and the coaches, by teammates Santonio Holmes (WR), Josh Huston (PK), Mike Kudla (DE), Nate Salley (S) and Ashton Youboty (CB). Michigan had wide receiver Jason Avant and defensive tackle Gabe Watson on the first teams chosen by both groups.
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