COLUMBUS — Big Hank is about to leave a big hole in the Ohio State defense.
All-Big Ten defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins announced on Monday he will forego his senior season to turn pro.
Widely projected as top-20 pick in April’s NFL draft, the 6-foot-3, 322-pound junior known to teammates as Big Hank was the Buckeyes’ immoveable interior anchor.
Hankins, 20, played in all 38 games during his three seasons at OSU and started the last two years. While he had only one sack this year, Hankins was fifth on the team with 55 tackles and devoured double teams on the nation’s 14th-ranked rushing defense (116 yards per game).
“My three years at the Ohio State University have provided amazing experiences for me, and they are years I will never forget or take for granted,” Hankins said in a statement. “My plans are to return to finish my degree and to continue to be a part of this brotherhood of Buckeyes.”
Hankins’ departure, seen as a formality, means the Buckeyes need to replace at least seven defensive starters — including the entire starting line. But their front looks to remain a strength. Sophomore Michael Bennett and blue-chip freshmen Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence, and Tommy Schutt all displayed flashes in meaningful time this season while another heralded stable of linemen are set to arrive in the class of 2013.
Cornerback Bradley Roby appears to be the only other OSU player entertaining an early exit, though the third-year sophomore is not projected as a first-day selection.