Could Buckeyes Redefine the Term 'Big Back'?
By Tony Gerdeman
If you can't run the ball in the Big Ten, you can't win. It's the key to controlling both the clock and the flow of the game. Opponents can be demoralized by a running game that they can't stop.
The Buckeyes had that running game in the first half last week against Miami, but lost it when Jordan Hall had to leave with cramps. Carlos Hyde did as well as he could, but the Buckeyes were certainly lacking something special at running back.
Against Toledo they only managed to rush for 112 yards on 34 carries. A pitiful 3.3 yards per carry, and nary a cloud of dust among them. Obviously not having Hall available was detrimental, and it almost cost the Buckeyes the game.
A football program that is known for running between the tackles has only been able to do a little of it so far. But might things be getting ready to change in a very big way?
Much has been made of the effect that missing the suspended running backs have had on this Ohio State offense, and we saw what Jordan Hall did upon his return. But just as soon as he returned, he was gone. How can the Buckeyes put their faith in somebody who has only played two of twelve quarters this season?
It's time for the Buckeyes to find a workhorse, and work him to the bone. It is time for some new blood in the Ohio State backfield.
When I say “new blood”, I am of course referring to 6-3 335-pound Johnathan “Big Hank” Hankins.
6-3, 335 pounds, Johnathan Hankins claims to be an elisive and agile runner.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Don't believe it? Just ask him.
“Big guys like me, some people expect us not to move as quick and do as much,” Hankins told disbelieving reporters. “But myself, I feel like I'm elusive and agile.”
At that size, you wouldn't think elusiveness and agility would play much of a role, but that's what makes Hankins such an intriguing prospect. Not only does he have the brute force of a dump truck, but he also has the fleet moves of a smaller dump truck.
“When I was little," he said, "I actually played running back."
“I was never really this big until I got to be like twelve or fifteen. When I was like six until I was like fourteen, I always played running back, tight end and linebacker. I guess I grew a little bit too much.”
That same growth spurt has turned many a running back into a defensive lineman over the years. Much like the Inuit centuries ago who would place their elderly on ice floes and then say goodbye, once a boy hits a certain weight, he is no longer allowed to carry the ball. He is placed on the ice floe known as the line of scrimmage and condemned to a life of head-on collisions with every snap.
But just because they no longer play the position, that doesn't mean they don't think about it all the time. It's like losing your legs, but still feeling an itch on your foot. In other words, you can take the boy out of the backfield, but you can't take the backfield out of the boy.
“I wouldn't mind doing what Refrigerator Perry did,” he said, before humbly adding, “but I wouldn't mind blocking or helping the team out.”
A complete player, willing to do whatever he can to help this team. He exudes confidence in his abilities.
Hankins thinks his post-sack celebration like this one would look good as a post-touchdown celebration as well.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I think I could handle it no problem,” he said of making the
move to the backfield. “I hope they give me a shot at it.”
“I'll take some carries from the halfbacks and help them out a little back there. I wouldn't mind getting a touchdown.”
Sure, it may have been a few years since Hankins has actually carried the football, but toting the pigskin is something that you never forget how to do, and few players have ever had a nose for the endzone quite the way Hankins does. In fact, during his senior year in high school, every carry Hankins had went for a touchdown.
“My senior year I had one carry for a touchdown,” he said.
That carry wasn't just a one-yard plunge. It was from four yards out, and it even took a move or two.
“I went with a little stiff arm and a juke move,” Hankins said, clearly trying not to brag, but failing miserably.
Imagine scoring every time you touched the football. That's the type of player that the Buckeyes could have at running back with Big Hank. The man has basically never been denied, yet there he sits with his fellow defensive linemen, watching the offense struggle when he knows he could be helping them out. He must feel useless at times.
If those same struggles happen again on Saturday, maybe instead of pounding away with the same four running backs, the coaches will think of giving Big Hank the chance that he says he is ready to receive.
And once they do, they can then spend the rest of their afternoon watching the scoreboard light up.
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