August 23, 2010

Hankins could be 'next big thing'

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State senior offensive guard Justin Boren admitted his initial thoughts when first laying eyes on defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins weren't favorable.

Given the fact that Hankins is a 6-foot-3, 335-pound freshman, it was just about the reaction everyone had when first looking at him.

"When he first got here, I was like, 'Dang, that's a big dude,'" Boren said after the jersey scrimmage Saturday. "When I first saw him I said, 'This guy is not going to be able to do one gasser.' He went out and ran seven or eight. I was impressed."

That sentiment rings true for the rest of Hankins' new teammates.

While Hankins sported the size you would expect out of every dominant interior defensive lineman, there was concern 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.

"Johnathan Hankins has showed up all of camp and I am sure he has to be tired," Tressel said. "Those young kids, they've never had a preseason like this. Not just the physical part of it, but the meetings and the mental part of it and the expectations."

The Buckeyes are coming off a year in which it sported perhaps the best depth on the defensive line in the Tressel-era. But since the beginning of fall camp, Hankins has been throwing his weight around - literally.

Already lining up with the second team defensive line as a freshman, Hankins is already considered one of the tougher assignments for an offensive lineman to draw.

While Hankins has been somewhat limited this fall in terms of longevity on a given drive, he has been spotted on countless occasions pushing offensive linemen backward.

On Saturday in the jersey scrimmage, Hankins accounted for one sack and pushed starting center Michael Brewster into the backfield on another play. Starting right guard Bryant Browning can attest to Hankins' toughness.

"A big guy like that, we have to move (quickly) off the ball. He is a handful," Browning said. "The coaches have done a good job of rotating around to different spots so he can get a feel. He has been doing a good job working hard and learning as much as possible flying around to make plays."

There is no telling which freshmen will be redshirted this season and which ones will play, but if practice is any indication for Hankins' fate, it looks as if the big defensive lineman will be included in the Buckeyes' 2010 plans.

Hankins has rotated in with the second string line and even drew a first-team assignment when the Buckeye defense was backed into the red zone in Saturday's jersey scrimmage. Hankins has the unique ability to penetrate the backfield or clog up holes the offense is trying to use as rushing lanes.

"John has really stepped up as a freshman and has made some plays," said defensive tackle Dexter Larimore. "He has been a really good anchor in there and been confident and has done some good things."

Already given a nickname by his teammates - "Big Hank" - he has the opportunity to contribute to another stellar defensive line under defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

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.

Even Heyward sees what Hankins can bring to this squad this year and in the future.

"He's going to be the next big thing around here," Heyward said.

At 330 pounds, perhaps he already is.

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for He can be reached at [email protected].

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