A.J. Hawk pondered the question: Would Ohio State offer him a scholarship if he were a high school player today?
“Probably not. I guess the timing worked out well,” he said, chuckling.
In the current era of elitist recruiting ratings, where five-stars are royalty and anything less than four stars is considered unacceptable, Hawk represents another side of the recruiting story. He was one of the “unwashed” who became an Ohio State All-American and NFL starter despite arriving at OSU as a three-star recruit out of Centerville.
Hawk isn’t sure he even rated a three.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
“I was probably a zero,” he said. “I got offered the summer going into my senior year, then got hurt the first game of my senior season.”
Hawk suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and missed half of the high school season.
“Luckily, they stuck with me,” he said of OSU. “I kept my scholarship. I don’t know how that would work out now. Recruiting is so different.”
Hawk’s career arc — from unheralded recruit to having been inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday — provides perspective. Just because a recruit rates less than four stars does not doom him to failure.
“Anyone who is not a five-star guy does not preclude them from being recruited by Ohio State or Alabama,” Bucknuts recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic said. “The coaches make their own evaluations. I don’t care if a guy is a three-, four- or five-star; if coaches evaluate a kid and think he can play, then they’ll recruit him.”
Ohio State’s roster includes 13 five-stars, 47 four-stars and 25 three-stars, according to 247Sports.
But would Hawk have made the cut if he was coming out now?
Bobby Carpenter isn’t so sure. The former Ohio State linebacker, who played with Hawk from 2002-05, said of his close friend, “How many three-star guys who get hurt their senior year do they bring on?”
Carpenter recalled initially being unimpressed with Hawk.
“The first time I saw A.J., I’m walking with my dad,” he said. “My dad looks at me and says, ‘That’s the guy, right there. That’s him. The way he walks. How he’s built. I can tell he’s a hard worker.’ I said, ‘Dad, he’s the lowest-ranked guy.’ He told me that means nothing. ‘That’s the guy you need to work out with.’ ”
Turns out that guy became a two-time All-American who finished with 394 tackles, fifth-best in school history, won the 2005 Lombardi Award, then became the No. 5 overall draft pick of the Green Bay Packers.
“He was very instinctive as a player, and for being as buttoned up as he is (off the field), he was pretty emotional on the field. You could see it in his eyes, boiling below the surface,” Carpenter said.
Hawk possessed a passion for the game that star ratings can’t measure. As for giving in to the trappings of success, forget it. Even today he’d rather grill out than go out.
In 2006, two weeks after Hawk moved out of his house on campus, the new occupants found his Lombardi trophy in the basement crawl space and texted him. They never heard back. Eventually, Hawk’s father came and got it.
“Awards and stuff like that couldn’t have meant less to him,” Carpenter said.
Recruiting ratings belonged in that stuff. Hawk never played with a chip on his shoulder.
“I never really was trying to prove people wrong,” he said. “I had two older brothers and I remember them telling me, ‘Who cares? Prove people right. Prove coach (Jim) Tressel right. Those guys that offered you.’ ”
He did. And now his star power is real, not based on a ranking.