Big Hanks big day.

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Last updated: 04/25/2013 5:14 AM

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Football
Big Hank’s Big Day
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nobody knew quite what to expect the first time Johnathan Hankins visited Ohio State nearly four years ago.

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Jim Davidson
Johnathan Hankins

The young defensive tackle out of Detroit weighed over 340 pounds as a junior at Southeastern High School, and he had yet to draw much interest from either Michigan school by the time he made his way to Columbus.

He was talented, there was no denying that, but Michigan and Michigan State had both hesitated to offer Big Hank because of concerns about academics and conditioning. But Jim Heacock, the defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Jim Tressel, and safeties coach Paul Haynes both saw something others wouldn’t see until later.

They saw a kid who had the potential to be a NFL-caliber defensive lineman, and Heacock’s decision to offer the 20th-rated player in the state of Michigan will come full circle this weekend.

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Dan Harker
Johnathan Hankins

“It’s been a short journey,” Hankins said, “but he always saw something in me and gave me a chance to play here. If it wasn’t for him and coach (Mike) Vrabel, I wouldn’t be right here.”

Here is on the doorstep of an NFL career that will begin when Hankins hears his name called during this weekend’s draft. Initially, the junior out of Ohio State was almost a certainty to come off the board during the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NFL Network).

That is a big part of the reason Hankins decided to leave college a year early to pursue his dreams of playing at the next level, but Big Hank might have to wait just a little longer to see those dreams fulfilled.  

“I’d be blessed just to get picked up, it really doesn’t matter,” he said last month.

“First round, that would be a blessing. Hopefully that happens.”

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Jim Davidson
Johnathan Hankins

ESPN.com currently ranks Hankins as the No. 9 defensive tackle prospect in this year’s draft, and No. 56 overall. That would put him smack in the middle of the second round, which is where most mock drafts have Hankins falling to after initially projecting him a full round higher.

NFL.com has him as the fifth-best defensive tackle prospect on their list, but ESPN’s latest seven-round mock draft has Hankins falling all the way to the 24th pick of the third round (No. 86 overall).

Most mock drafts have him going somewhere in the second round, but Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com is still expecting Hankins to come off the board on day one of the NFL Draft.

One reason Hankins has slipped down the draft boards since declaring was his slow 40 time at the NFL Combine back in February. The big guy rumbled to an official 5.31 in the 40 – the fourth-slowest among all defensive linemen in Indianapolis.

He didn’t run at Ohio State’s Pro Day in March, but Hankins did turn in much better times in the three-cone (7.59) and short shuttle (4.61) drills at the combine than might be expected of a guy his size.

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Dan Harker
Johnathan Hankins

“I'm a big guy. I’m 320 and I’m very athletic,” Hankins said after Ohio State’s Pro Day in Columbus.

“I can move. I’m not just a one down person. I can play all downs and that’s what teams have been liking. I’m continuing to work hard at it.”

There aren’t many 320 pounds guys who lined up and played defensive end at the college level, but that’s exactly what the Buckeyes asked Hankins to do at times during his freshman and sophomore seasons in Columbus.

As a result, Hankins put up big numbers as a first-year starter in 2011. He finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles as a sophomore and second behind John Simon with 11 tackles for loss. He also tied for second on the team in sacks two years ago, but Hankins wasn’t asked to do nearly as much for Ohio State’s defense in 2012.

The return of Nathan Williams, along with the addition of talented newcomers like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington allowed Hankins to stay inside at defensive tackle. Instead of making plays, his job was largely scripted around allowing guys like Simon, Ryan Shazier and Zach Boren to make the plays other guys weren’t capable of during the 2011 season.

Johnathan Hankins celbrates with the fans after the win over Michigan this year.
Photo by Dan Harker
Johnathan Hankins

“I think he did everything we asked him to do and everything we would have expected him to do,” said Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who coached the defensive line during Hankins’ sophomore season.

“That kid has got all the intangibles. He's not scratched the surface on how good he can be, because physically he's still a young kid.”

Hankins did not redshirt Ohio State and actually made a few big plays for the Buckeyes as a freshman in 2010. He finished his rookie season with 16 tackles and a sack, while helping Tressel’s last team to an 11-1 finish.

He didn’t put up the numbers he had hoped to as a junior last season, in terms of sacks or tackles-for-loss, but he did finish fifth on the team with 55 tackles. With his ability to play in space and in a box, it’s hard to imagine Hankins’ name still being on the board after Friday, but one way or another his life will be drastically different on Monday.

“It feels good to know my parents wont have to work anymore and if anybody in my family needs help I can help them and be the provider,” he said.

“I'm blessed and I’m going to take care of that money.”

Not bad for a kid nobody seemed to want just a few years ago.

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