Hankins Becoming ‘Dominant Force’ Up Front
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Johnathan Hankins is only in his second year at Ohio State, but that has not stopped the 335-pound defensive lineman from garnering NFL attention already this season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He still has another year and half before he is even eligible for the next level, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t taking notice of what he has been doing as a sophomore with the Buckeyes.
“What a year it's been for Ohio State sophomore DT Johnathan Hankins,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on his Twitter account.
“The gifted 6-2, 335-pounder has been a dominant force.”
Kiper is hardly the first to notice Hankins’ impressive play this fall, and he won’t be the last. Illinois got a heavy dose of ‘Big Hank’ over the weekend as he led the Buckeyes with nine tackles, including two in the backfield.
His big game was somewhat overshadowed by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week John Simon, who had four tackles-for-loss and two sacks against the Illini. The two defensive linemen have quickly become Ohio State’s best playmakers on defense.
“We were just going out there playing,” Hankins said.
“Johnny doesn’t really care about the stats. He’s just worried about getting the win. I get it from him. If he makes a play, I get excited and if I make a play we all get excited.”
No one moreso than Head Coach Luke Fickell, who was hoping the light would go on for Hankins following a pretty solid, but unspectacular, rookie season in Columbus.
“Going into the season we knew Johnathan is a good football player, we just didn’t know where his numbers would be,” Fickell said Tuesday.
“How does he deteriorate after 25 snaps or 30 snaps or 40 snaps?”
Hankins was thinking about that too.
“Coming in, I always thought I was going to play,” he said.
“Last year I played like 15 snaps (per game). I was a little surprised that I played that many, but my time on the field showed people I could play. I had confidence in myself.”
Fickell and Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock had confidence in Hankins from the time they started recruiting him at Southeastern High School in Detroit. The Buckeyes were one of the first three schools to offer him.
They thought he might be the dynamic big guy they were looking for on the defensive line, but it is always hard to know for sure until a guy gets on campus and starts working out and practicing with the team.
“Recruiting is still and educated guess. There are not a whole lot of ‘for sures,’” Fickell said.
“I would love to sit here and tell you that I had him pegged all the way and Jim had him pegged all the way. You look into more things. He was a good big guy from inner city Detroit that you’re never exactly sure on, but when you get to know the kid and the person, you know you have a good chance because of how he acts and what he does.”
What he does is dominate opposing offensive lines. After playing 15-20 snaps per game last season as a freshman, Hankins has taken on a full load this fall. He played more than 60 snaps in the season-opener against Akron, and that has only continued with the injury to defensive end Nathan Williams.
“After the first game I had a good idea how many snaps I was going to be playing,” he said with a big smile.
“We’re kind of young and this being my second year, I’m kind of a veteran. I’m starting to develop a leadership role on this team and I’m ready to accept that.”
That is just one of the many roles Hankins has played for the Buckeyes this season. He is certainly big and strong enough to play nose tackle, but quick enough to slide outside and play some end in Williams’ absence.
That is a true rarity in a defensive lineman.
“At first I thought playing end would be a little shaky, but as I’ve played it and got used to it I see the benefits and all the good things I get from playing both spots,” he said.
“I feel comfortable right now.”
Despite being 335 pounds, the big sophomore is second on the team behind linebacker Andrew Sweat with 36 tackles this season. He is also second in tackles-for-loss (6.5) and tied for second in sacks (2.0) behind Simon.
He is on pace for nearly 62 tackles during the regular season, which might be a record for Ohio State defensive tackles. Cam Heyward had 49 tackles last season, and he was the team’s Defensive MVP. Tim Anderson had 45 tackles in 2003 and Quinn Pitcock had 49 in 2004.
Even Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson’s best year was only 46 tackles. Both Hankins and Simon are on pace to eclipse that number in 2011.
The two of them have been wreaking more havoc this season than Fulton Reed and Dean Portman. They are both among the top 10 in the conference in tackles-for-loss despite having a very young defense around them.
“If we keep playing like this it’s going to be a good season for us,” Hankins said.
Along with everyone playing around them.
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