- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Many people are projecting Ohio State junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to become a first-round pick, and it's easy to see why.
Hankins is an imposing physical presence at 6-foot-3, 322 pounds, and he brings good athleticism to the position. He's a big reason why the Buckeyes have one of the top defensive lines in the country. I recently caught up with the rising star known as "Big Hank" for our Friday Q&A segment:
How do you think the defense played in the opener against Miami (Ohio)?
Jonathan Hankins: We played pretty well. We kind of executed what we needed to do against a five-wide offense. It was kind of surprising that they went five-wide the whole game. We did as much as we could to keep pressure on the quarterback and keep him frustrated. I felt like we could have gotten a little bit more pressure, but the scheme they played made it kind of hard to get there at times. I think we did the best we could.
What challenges does this week's opponent, UCF, bring?
JH: This is going to be a good challenge for us. They're one of those teams that does run the ball. They're not shying away from that. They have a good running back and a good offensive line. I feel like this is our type of game, and I'm really excited for this Saturday. We're expecting to see some power and zone reads, and whatever they show us, we just have to adjust and prepare for the next play.
How did you feel like you prepared for this season, and how would you rate your Week 1 performance?
JH: I feel like I prepared pretty well. The first game, I felt like I was kind of getting the rust off, but I felt I did pretty good getting some pressure and, when they did run, at stopping the run and holding my ground. I feel like this game [against UCF] will be a good opening for me because they run the ball. And getting after the quarterback, because they're going to run play action and hold the ball a little longer.
As a defensive tackle, do you really like playing against running teams the most?
JH: Yeah, that's what I love to do, play the running game. And this year, I'm starting to get better as a pass-rusher. It's what I tried to improve upon this offseason, so I'm going to see how that goes with my pass rush. Hopefully, I'll accomplish what I want.
JH: I feel like they're very athletic, and right now they're knowing our game plan very well. It's just going out and getting the feel of the game and not being so big-eyed and shy when there's 110,000 people out there watching them. I feel like they'll do well and definitely be a good fit for us this year.
How good was it to see Nathan Williams back in action?
JH: It was amazing to have him back in there. It's been a year, and just having him back gives me more confidence and relaxation. I know that everybody on the line can do their job, and with him being the playmaker that he is, it gives us even more confidence.
You still have Michael Bennett coming back at some point, too. Just how good and deep can this D-line be?
JH: I can't really explain how it's going to be. We've got so many guys -- with Nate, Michael, the freshmen -- it's kind of unique to see. Once everybody gets healthy and knows what to do, it's going to be a big edge for us.
Mike Vrabel is coaching the defensive line this year. What has he brought to you guys?
JH: He definitely brings a lot of energy to our defensive line and always preaches going hard and relentless effort. I feel we're learning more techniques now and more about game formations and things like that. By him playing in the league, we can always relate to everything he has provided.
How many times has he mentioned his Super Bowl rings?
JH: Every once in a while, when he wants to make a point.
You're from the Detroit area. How did you end up at Ohio State instead of Michigan?
JH: It's kind of crazy, but Ohio State was one of the first teams that was interested in me. Michigan was one of those schools that was kind of in but not in on me. Once I took my visit here, I felt like the family atmosphere and all the coaches were a good fit for me. And I kind of wanted to be a little far from home but not too far.
Were you a Michigan fan growing up?
JH: I was pretty much a Michigan fan until I got older, but then I started liking the Florida Gators. Michigan and Florida were my top schools.
So you rooted for the Gators when Urban Meyer was there?
JH: Yeah. I took a visit there and thought about going there. And now that he's coaching here, it's kind of a funny situation. Everyone was thrilled when he got here. I knew when he came in that the offense would be amazing, and from what I've seen so far, I feel like it's pretty good. In the future, I think we'll probably be one of the best teams in the country.
You're a big guy. Did you always play football, and were you always put on the lines?
JH: My freshman year, I played basketball, but once I realized it took up a lot of time, I stuck to football. This is my love and what I love to do. Actually, when I first got to high school, I played middle linebacker. As I got older and a little bit bigger, they moved me to defensive end and D-tackle and then offensive tackle. I was always a little bigger and athletic.
How much did you weigh when you were a freshman playing linebacker?
JH: I'd probably say, 250, maybe 265.
So did you just put the weight on gradually?
JH: Yeah, it was just mom's cooking and playing football. That blew me up.
What's your mom's best dish?
JH: Lasagna. With her bread.
During the ESPN All-Access stuff, fellow defensive lineman Chris Carter complained about being on a restricted diet. Have you ever had to go through that?
JH: I always try to eat healthy, but during camp it's kind of hard because there's always food, and they always want you to eat and hydrate. So it's kind of like a war with what you eat, to make sure you're ready for practice but don't eat too much and not be overweight. Once [new Ohio State team nutritionist Sarah Wick] got here, it made it much easier. She has helped me extremely, and I appreciate her.
Finally, your name popped up on a lot of preseason All-America lists and NFL draft talk. What do you make of all that?
JH: It was good to hear. But I always think the more hard work I do and the more I put on the field, the more good things will happen. I'm just focusing on this year and winning as many games as I can for the seniors and just going out there and paying football. Because that's what I love to do.