September 27, 2010

Hankins building on big fall



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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State freshman defensive tackle Johnathon Hankins couldn't stop smiling once arriving in the postgame interview room after Ohio State's 73-20 win over Eastern Michigan Saturday.



It could be because it was the first time Hankins had been made available to the media since arriving on campus during the summer. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that Hankins was coming out of the game in which he recorded his first career sack as a Buckeye.



Either way, to Hankins, it was a good day.



"It was great to get my first career sack in the 'Shoe," Hankins said, still grinning. "It was unbelievable. I almost had two and I am going to do the best that I can to get more sacks."



Eastern Michigan had just scored its third touchdown of the game and received the ball back after holding the Buckeye offense. With momentum swaying over to Eastern Michigan, Hankins busted through the center of the Eagles' offensive line and registered the sack, ending any offensive chemistry the team was mounting.



"It created momentum for our team and it came at a big moment," Hankins said. "After the sack, I don't think they had any more success on offense for the rest of day."



While the 6-foot-3, 335-pound freshman isn't in the Buckeyes' starting lineup on the defensive front just yet, Hankins has already done enough to crack the rotation. Hankins has been used in Ohio State's goal line defensive set and has seen time in the already tough interior defensive line.



In his first fall camp with the team, teammates and coaches repeatedly uttered Hankins' name when they were asked about new faces coming on strong. That momentum has continued into the regular season, despite initial concern about his weight and physical shape.



Hankins sports the size you would expect out of every dominant interior defensive lineman, but there was worry in regards to his ability to be a contributor early in his career at Ohio State.



A three-star defensive tackle out of Detroit, Mich., Hankins had problems with his weight while in high school. During his time in high school football Hankins weighed an upwards of 330 pounds, but was able to reduce is weight to around 300 during the recruitment process.



Now, Hankins is back up to the 330-pound mark - but it doesn't seem to be slowing the impact he has had on the Buckeyes defensive line in his first three weeks with the team.



Hankins admits it was a battle to continue to get stronger, but his 330-pound body is carrying considerably more muscle and less fat.



"I just went hard every play and didn't pay attention to people who didn't think I could be in good shape," Hankins said. "As camp was going on it was hard but I just told myself I had to get through it. Now games just make you in better shape as the season goes.



"It was pretty hard and it definitely wasn't easy," Hankins continued. "I kept working hard and I got through it. I just kept hustling and pushing and now I am in better shape, stronger, and I am feeling good."



Already given a nickname by his teammates - "Big Hank" - Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has already been impressed with what the freshman has brought to this defense.



Cracking the rotation on the defensive line isn't any easy undertaking for anyone, but Hankins' new found agility and body size has made him a commodity for the Buckeyes' defense.



"He has come on a little quicker than even we were expecting him to," Heacock said. "He is a good instinctive football player. He has all the instincts we look at in a big defensive lineman. He is has been a little bit more solid (body-wise) than he has been and you will see that to continue to improve as time goes on."



The Buckeyes have perhaps the best defensive end in the Big Ten in Cameron Heyward who could have potentially left Ohio State after his junior year for a first round selection in the NFL Draft.



Instead, Heyward returned to the Buckeyes for a shot at a national title. To Heyward, Hankins is one of the guys that will help the team get there, despite being just a freshman.



"Big Hank, he is just making plays right now," Heyward said. "He made that sack and it was amazing. He is just producing right now and at his weight he is doing some amazing things. He is only going to continue to get better."



Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.








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